Backstage Pass: Behind the Seeds

Backstage Pass: Behind the Seeds

The past two weeks we have covered the Epcot International Flower & Garden Festival.  We discovered there are so many things going on during the 90 day ode to nature, including topiaries, gardens, educational speakers, rock concerts, outdoor kitchens, and special tours.  One of the tours we mentioned last week was Behind the Seeds.  This tour isn’t offered just during the festival, but is available year round.  The last time I was in the park I had the opportunity to go backstage and see just what is behind the seeds at Living With the Land!  Today, I’m happy to share that experience with you.

So, let’s get started with our know before you go essential facts:

  • The tour is located in the Land inside Epcot
  • There is no height requirement
  • Children are allowed on the tour
  • This is a walking tour, but there are no physical requirements or warnings
  • The fright factor is 0 out of 5
  • The tour is 1 hour long
  • The tour is usually offered from 10:30 am – 4:30 pm with tours departing every 45 minutes
  • Behind the Seeds is $20 per adult, $16 per child, tax not included

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Integrated pest management, biological control, Plum Plox Virus, Hydroponics, Aquaculture, drip irrigation, alligators.  Are you still there?  I haven’t scared you off or lost you yet, have I?  If not, then you are ready to explore the Behind the Seeds tour.  This one hour walking tour can be a little scientific at times, but it provides a wonderful view of the Land pavilion and offers up a bounty of education.  Is it right for your crew of Disney explorers?  Come along with me and let’s find out!

The first stop on the Behind the Seeds tour is the check-in desk.  It is located in the Land pavilion just outside the entrance to Soarin’.  You need to arrive here 15 minutes prior to your tour.  Once checked in you can wait in the area that once housed Fastpass kiosks for Soarin’.  Today the kiosks have been replaced by benches, which offer a nice rest area before things get started.  You are about to be on your feet for the next hour, so be prepared.  When your entire group is accounted for and a brief introduction, your tour guide will take you through a door at the back of the waiting area.  You will be escorted outside and down a short walkway to the Integrated Pest Management Lab.

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This lab is about the size of an average living room and has two stainless steel shelving units.  Each unit holds glass tanks with leafy plants inside.  Over the next few minutes, you will learn about the teeny tiny pests living inside these glass houses.  The two inhabitants are Leaf Miner larvae and the Parasitoid wasp.  Now, our tour guide talked about these two guys for almost 5 minutes before I learned who was the good guy and who was the bad guy.  It was a little confusing up until that point.  So, before I go any further you need to know the Leaf Miner larvae are the bad guys.  They eat the leaves of plants from the inside out until there is nothing left.  So, the good guys, the Parasitoid Wasp, is released into the greenhouses to stop the Leaf Miner larvae.  Now, you may be hearing the term “wasp” and “released” and have a bad feeling about the way our tour is starting out.  Well, let me put your mind at ease.  You see, the Parasitoid wasp is among the smallest species of insects.  Those you will encounter on the tour look like very tiny gnats, so don’t bust out the bug spray.  Actually, you will learn here that bug spray is one of the three types of pest management.  It and other pesticides would fall into chemical control.  The Parasitoid wasp would be biological control.  Finally, mechanical control is the third type, and can be something as simple as a screen door.

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As for how the Parasitoid wasp takes out the Leaf Miner larvae, I will let you discover that scientific tidbit on the tour.  There is a video shown while in the Integrated Pest Management Lab that shows the larvae in microscopic detail, helping to make this all make sense.

So, that’s how the tour begins.  Sound exciting?  Well, for me personally, it was a little more classroom and a little less backstage than I expected, and a bit overwhelming.  The backstage portion isn’t far off though.  After leaving the pest management lab there is a brief stop outside at the Biotechnology Lab.  You don’t get to go inside here, but you look through a large glass window as your tour guide teaches you about the plum plox virus, tissue cultures, and Mickey’s mini gardens.

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After this, you enter the first greenhouse of the tour.  If you have been on Living with the Land, this is actually the last greenhouse you travel through on the ride. Behind the Seeds walks through the same space as Living with the Land, but does so in reverse order of the ride.  The highlight for me in this greenhouse was getting to meet Stanley.  Stanley is the only non-edible plant on the tour, but is also the only plant you are allowed to touch.  He is known as a sensitive plant, because you can lightly run your fingers along the tiny leaves and then watch as they curl up and retract.  This is actually really cool to watch.  Google Mimosa pudica and you will find videos of plants like Stanley.  The thing I found fascinating was that Stanley had returned to his perky self when we walked back by at the end of the tour.

After everyone has a chance to say hi to Stanley you move over to the Hydroponic Gro-Tank station.  Here, you can learn about several different ways to start your own Hydroponic Gro-Tank at home.  Anything from an old fish tank to an inexpensive bucket from your local home improvement store can serve as your vessel.  Your guide will hand out instructions that you can take home.   I won’t pretend to fully understand all the benefits of hydroponic agriculture, so we won’t dive into that here.  However, one of the vegetables grown in the Land using this method are cucumbers.  At the station, your guide will hand out samples of cucumber slices that were grown right there in the Land using hydroponics.  So, how do they taste?  Well, like a ripe   juicy cucumber!

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When you finish with your cucumber, there is a bin to toss your used toothpicks in.  Everything in the Land is recycled so these toothpicks will be used for the next tour group.  Just kidding!  At least I think so.  They do recycle everything they use here, but I think that means they get processed at a recycling facility.

Through the next set of doors is the String Greenhouse.   If you have been on the ride you will recognize this greenhouse as the home of the hanging plants and veggies.  Everything here is grown up on string.  This helps make harvesting easier and creates a better air flow for the plants.  Of course, plants are traditionally grown in the ground where they receive water and needed nutrients from the soil.  So, how do they grow up in the air without these crucial elements?  Well, they still get both water and nutrients, just delivered in a little more high tech way.  Your guide will tell you about the different nutrient solutions that are mixed together and then shot through the greenhouse via a network of small tubes.

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During these discussions, you will see boats from Living with the Land floating by in the background.  You can also hear the ride narration coming from each boat.  This brings up one of the aspects of the tour I think could be greatly improved upon: if you listened to our first Backstage Pass podcast on Wild Africa Trek, you will remember I  said you are given an ear piece with a receiver.  That simple piece of tech allows you to hear your tour guide over the ambient noise.  Well, you don’t receive an ear piece on Behind the Seeds.  Instead, your tour guide has to speak, or even shout at times, so that the entire group can hear what’s being said.  With the boats floating by every couple of minutes, it can be very challenging to hear your guide at times.  I would love to see them add the ear piece to this tour as it would make it much more enjoyable and engaging.

Let’s get back to the tour and head into the third greenhouse.  This is your chance to take a short break and have a seat for a few minutes on the wooden benches running along the wall.  There is also a water cooler and paper cups here to get a cup of water if needed.  While you sit and rest, your tour guide will continue to educate the group about this section, called the Temperate Greenhouse.  You will see a bed of sand that supports the plants in this area, and learn about the benefits of planting in sand and using drip irrigation.  You will also get a chance to hold and smell a Brazilian fruit called a Casa Banana.  This brown fruit is a little smaller than a football and has a pretty strong scent.  So much so it is used as an air freshener in some parts of the world.  If you like the smell of bananas, this could be your new scent!

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A little further down the path you may get to see some prize winning pumpkins that can grow up to 200-300 pounds.  This will all depend on the time of year you take the tour.  I believe there was only 1 small pumpkin growing at the time we where in the greenhouse.

Eventually you will make your way to the aqua cell.  This is the tunnel you ride through on the ride which houses fish, shrimp, and American Alligators.  I’ve have to say that this was my least favorite part of the tour.  First of all, this tunnel is extremely loud!  Remember I said your tour guide would be shouting at times?  Well, the entire time in this section, that was the case.  The noise from the tanks and passing boats make it very difficult to hear well.  On top of that there is low lighting and a persistent red glow to this tunnel.  Oh, and it smells like fish.  Maybe that doesn’t sound bad to you, but a loud, poorly lit tunnel with a fishy smell isn’t my idea of paradise!  Here you learn more about aquaculture, or aquafarming, the practice of farming aquatic organisms.  I may have mentioned before that seafood ranks at the bottom of my diet.  So, the idea of farming more fish seems superfluous to me.  Aren’t there enough in the ocean already?  I’m eating less than my share!

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I’ve always wondered why the Living with the Land ride included the alligators.  How do they relate to the Land?  Where do they fit with aquaculture?  Needless to say, I was very curious to learn more about them on the Behind the Seeds tour.  Well, what we learned was a little disappointing.  I won’t spoil everything here, but this once endangered species has grown so great in numbers that today they can be hunted.  We also learned how they fit into the aquaculture efforts, but that I’m afraid is the sad part of the story.  I’m going to leave that out so it won’t leave a bad taste in your mouth the next time you see these guys on Living with the Land.

On a more fun note, you do get the opportunity to feed the fish here in the aqua cell.  At the far end of the tunnel is a giant tank full of fish.  If you want you can step up onto the elevated platform and receive a handful of stinky fish food.  Everyone waits for the signal from the guide and then tosses their portion of food into the tank at the same time.  Of course, the result is a feeding frenzy.  Any kids in the group will likely love this part of the tour.  I gave it a go myself and I have to admit it was kinda fun.  I especially liked the part where I got hand sanitizer afterwards.  No stinky fish hands for me!

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After the aqua cell, your tour is almost at an end.  The last greenhouse on the tour is the first greenhouse you enter on the ride.  This is the most beautiful part of the tour with the giant domed glass ceiling above.  I’ve always loved this portion of the ride and being able to spend a few extra minutes taking in the surroundings was very nice.  At this stop you can see a giant fluted pumpkin and learn about the different plants found in the tropics.  The tropics are a great source for passion fruit, avocado, and even black pepper.  As you will discover, you can whip up quite the meal if ever stranded on a tropical island.  You will also learn about the long life of bananas, the cost of different spices, and some other fun surprises.

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When this is finished your tour guide walks you back out the way you came in and you get one more chance to see all the greenhouses from the backstage perspective.  When you arrive back at the start your guide will thank you and invite you to tell others about the Behind the Seeds tour.

So, does this sound like something you would enjoy?  I read a lot of reviews about this tour before taking it myself.  I have to say most of those reviews were very positive.  My own experience left me wanting a little more.  I suppose I expected a little more new material than what you already learn about on Living with the Land.  I will admit that the enjoyment of this tour is highly influenced by the cast member that leads it.  One thing I haven’t mentioned is that the tour is normally lead by college interns, or those just having graduated college.  Our tour guide had only given 2 tours prior to ours, so she was still a little green.  She did possess a good amount of knowledge about plants, horticulture, and the efforts of the Land in Epcot.  What she lacked was the experience in engaging an audience.  I would liken it to having a science teacher that is very book smart, but maybe not the most exciting personality.  Now, if your guide has the somewhat cooky, always zany personality of my 7th grade science teacher, your experience would be just the opposite.  You probably had a teacher like this at some point.  You know, the ones who could make even the most mundane material seem exciting through their passion.  Well, I’m sure there are some guides like this on Behind the Seeds.  If you are lucky enough to be paired with someone like this then the tour will probably be more intriguing.

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What the tour does have in its favor is the low cost and short time frame.  This tour won’t break the bank and it won’t take up half your day.  I would definitely recommend you ride Living with the Land before signing up for Behind the Seeds for a preview of what to expect.  If this is your first trip to Epcot you will probably want to save this tour for a future visit.  If you have been several times before and have always enjoyed Living with the Land, then it may be time to check it out.  If you are heading to the park for the Epcot International Flower & Garden Festival, it may be the perfect addition to your day.  Whatever the case, you can book the tour in advance by calling (407) WDW-TOUR, that’s (407) 939-8687.  Or, stop by the Tour Desk outside of Soarin’ to check on availability for the day you are there.

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That wraps up our look at Behind the Seeds.  Hopefully, I have given you a fair idea of what to expect.  As I said, I was a little disappointed in my experience, but my expectations may have been a little high after doing Wild Africa Trek earlier in the trip.  If anything, the tour made me appreciate Living with the Land even more.  If I had to choose between hoping on that boat or taking the tour a second time, I would definitely choose the boat ride.  The ride gives you a lot of the same information in a more compact,  entertaining way.  If you haven’t listened to our podcast on Living with the Land be sure to go check it out!

Thank you for coming by and spending some time with me today!  I hope this has brought a little Disney magic home for you and look forward to bringing you more exciting adventures from Walt Disney World next week!  Until then, make each day a ride worth taking!

 

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