Growing for the future utilizes innovative techniques here at Epcot’s Greenhouses! Part II: The Land

I just loved this tomato plant - as you can see from yesterday's post! © Steve Conley
I just loved this tomato plant - as you can see from yesterday's post! © Steve Conley

On the day before Christmas, I had the incredible opportunity for a one-on-one behind the scenes tour of Epcot’s greenhouses with Disney horticulturalist Les Frey.  He is fantastic and a wealth of information!  Frey has 18 years of horticultural experience here at The Land Pavilion and from that, an amazing institutional knowledge of all its gardening projects.  He started in the tissue culture lab and then moved on to the greenhouses where he now manages in addition to being the student coordinator.

Britt with Les Frey © Steve Conley
Britt with Les Frey © Steve Conley

One of the techniques he and others are studying here is Hydroponics, or simply, soiless gardening.  Why would one do this?  Well, soil gardening allows for root disease and pests.  More importantly, gardening in soil requires soil!  There is a shortage of viable gardening soil in large areas around the world.  Arid regions and areas with poor soil can not grow enough produce to feed their communities.  Here at Epcot, the work with hydroponics is creating ways around this problem with technologies that can be transplanted around the world. There are more than 60 plant varieties being experimented with here and so far the results are very exciting!  The work has resulted in healthier crops with better yields by simply providing an ever re-circulating supply of water and a nutrient solution. One of these methods of gardening is called The Nutrient Film Technique.

These cucumbers love hydroponics! © Britt Conley
These cucumbers love hydroponics! © Britt Conley

Here in the Production Greenhouse, these lettuce beds (below) are planted individually upon sloped hydroponic water racks.

Hydroponically grown Lettuce crops © Britt Conley
Hydroponically grown Lettuce crops © Britt Conley

Les illustrated for us just how the system works.  “The water is pumped from a tank, up through these tubes, and into the white trays that the lettuce are growing in.  The plants use what they need, and the rest is collected and reused.”

The Nutrient Film Technique © Britt Conley
The Nutrient Film Technique © Britt Conley

Another way to bring water to plants is through Spiral Gardening.

Les Frey explains the spiral gardening technique © Britt Conley
Les Frey explains the spiral gardening technique © Britt Conley

Frey shows us how, “the nutrient water flows in at the top, down through the spirals and is collected at the bottom and reused.   The plant roots (in this case lettuce) collect the nutrient water as it goes by and use that to grow.  This method allows us to grow large numbers of plants in a small area, and it conserves water and nutrients since it is reused.”  So how do we get this at home?

Well, Frey explains the hydroponic technique can even be used in a home kitchen!  This tank (below) shows what can be done with Hydroponics in the home.  All you need is a 10 Gallon aquarium, an air supply, Polystyrene board and, of course, your choice of plant!

A Hydroponic Grow Tank at The Land © Britt Conley
A Hydroponic Grow Tank at The Land © Britt Conley

One of things I love about this place is knowing that many of the vegetable crops are used in the local Epcot restaurants!  Some of the chefs from various Disney restaurants like to pick their own produce from these crops. The idea made me head straight over to the Garden Grille at The Land exhibit and order a salad! And it was great! It tasted like it came right from the garden 🙂

Of course it didn't occur to me to shoot a picture of it until I was half way done! © Britt Conley
Of course it didn't occur to me to shoot a picture of it until I was half way done! © Britt Conley

Tomorrow, we’re going to continue with Les Frey with a tour of some of their aeroponically grown crops and we’ll find out more about the amazing intern program and how it’s changing the world.  As for me, it’s time for another cup of tea!

‘Til Tomorrow,

Britt : )

2 Replies to “Growing for the future utilizes innovative techniques here at Epcot’s Greenhouses! Part II: The Land”

  1. amie

    Britt— is there anyway to get in touch with Les?? im a college student with a huge interest in organics & sustainability. when i saw this facility last month i just knew this industry was what i wanted to be a part of for the rest of my life, but im not sure what path to take… i thought maybe he could give me some advice??? thanks!!!!

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