Get to know the CNC Unity Garden and Schools Horticulturist

Christopher Horacek shares information on gardening and his teaching experiences

Christopher Horacek out in the garden

We asked Christopher Horacek, our Unity Garden and Schools Horticulturist, a few questions about the vegetable garden, teaching and his experiences with that. Read on to hear his interesting answers!

What pleasant surprise have you discovered in your work at the Unity Garden?

The best surprise that I’ve discovered during my time in the Unity Garden is the commitment and drive of our volunteers at the CNC! We have an amazing group of dedicated volunteers that assist with our weekly harvests and other garden tasks. Rain or shine, 45 degrees or 95 degrees, we can count on our volunteers to be ready to go with a smile on their faces.

What have been the most challenging vegetables to grow and why?

Tomatoes and carrots both pose unique challenges for us in the Unity Garden. While both these crops will grow voraciously once established, they can be rather labor-intensive to get started. Carrots directly seeded into a bed or field need to stay consistently moist in order to maximize germination, thus regular monitoring and watering over a period of 7-10 days is a must to ensure a healthy stand. Once the small seedlings emerge, they must be thinned to allow space for each carrot to thicken. After the plants are thinned and have gained some height, they typically require infrequent maintenance– it is only the first few weeks that pose a challenge!

Tomatoes, unlike carrots, require regular maintenance throughout their growing season to maximize production. From pruning suckers on young plants to continuously trellising and controlling pests on mature plants, tomatoes take up a lot of attention. This necessity of attention partnered with the management of the many plant diseases and pests that attack tomatoes secures tomatoes in the top spot of the most challenging (and most fun!) crops we grow.

Check out to see what’s growing at our Unity Garden!

What are the easiest vegetables to grow and why?

Turnips and radishes are great beginner crops that are quick and relatively low maintenance. With a growing period of only 3-5 weeks you can reap what you’ve sown in a hurry! Both these vegetables can tolerate a wide variety of growing conditions making them suitable for most home gardens. Lettuces and other cutting greens (arugula, ect.) are some additional candidates for easiest vegetables to grow!

Thanks to a grant from Fulton County, CNC was able to work with students from Creekview High School and Cogburn Woods Elementary School. Share with us some of the highlights of working with both of these age groups.

The partnership between Creekview, Cogburn Woods and the CNC provided a unique opportunity for us in the Horticulture department to share our knowledge, passion, and enthusiasm of the botanical world with a wide array of students, ranging from 1st grade all the way to high school seniors. At Cogburn Woods Elementary, we aided in the construction and planting of a brand new school garden (a total of 20-raised beds) and participated in the inaugural year of an elementary agricultural pilot program. At Creekside High School, we assisted in the expansion of the pre-existing school garden in addition to working hands-on with students to grow transplants and prepare the growing spaces. However, the main highlight of participating in this partnership was working hands-on with the students and dedicated staff. Being able to work alongside the students as they transplanted vegetables or weeded raised beds facilitated some great learning experiences and established a real connection between the information learned in the classroom and how things actually work in the outside world.

Describe in some detail the hard work of Unity Garden.

Much of the work in the Unity Garden will vary between seasons, but there are some tasks that always need to be done! Weeding and bed-prepping. As those with gardens know, the battle with weeds never ends. We tackle weeds in many ways, from a wide array of hand tools to using straw and wood-mulches. Another big task is preparing raised beds and fields for planting. We build our “beds” in our field section by hand, using a roto-tiller, a hoe, a rake, and a whole lot of compost!

Picked straight from the Garden!

   

Tell us why you think the Unity Garden is important and why it should go on. Has this inspired you in your work there and how?

The Unity Garden provides a necessary service in its production and donation of fresh, healthy produce to members of our surrounding community through North Fulton Community Charities. Many individuals and families struggle with food access and often fresh vegetables and produce are unattainable. Our work in the Unity Garden provides fresh food to those who need it most. The Unity Garden is also unique in that we are able to donate 100% of the produce grown in our garden, all-year round. This focus on donation by the Unity Garden, as well as the impact our donations have on those in our local community, provided me with an increased motivation to grow as much food as possible during my time at the CNC!

CNC is lucky to have the leadership, dedication, and experience of Christopher in the Unity Garden all of which contribute to it’s success. The Unity Garden is open to explore while you are visiting CNC and during Fall Break, September 28-October 2, there will be daily guided tours. 

Want to learn more about the Partnership with North Fulton Community Charities? Check out this video!