LAMBEAU teenager Nikolai Hart Hopley's aquaponic garden earned him first place in Tobago and third overall in the national Grow it Yourself kitchen garden competition.
The kitchen garden challenge is an incentive-based project initiated by the Ministry of Sport and Community Development in partnership with the Ministry of Agriculture, Lands and Fisheries, which encouraged members of the public to test their green thumb. The challenge began on June 8 and ran for six weeks.
It is part of the Prime Minister's Best Village Competition and was previously known as Clean and Beautify TT. The competition was reintroduced in Mya last year, as people gravitated towards kitchen gardens during the first covid19 lockdown.
There were five categories of kitchen garden prizes: small, medium, large, hydroponic and aquaponic.
Special category prizes included: most innovative kitchen garden, most sustainable garden, best influencer kitchen garden – which would be decided by the judges and public based on how many likes received on the ministry's social media channels – people's choice, decorative garden and family garden.
The fifth form Scarborough Secondary School student said he chose to enter the competition because he “knew only good things would come out of taking part.”
He said, “I did not expect to do so well in the competition, but I am very glad that I did do well.”
The 17-year-old said he got involved in aquaponics – a food production system growing fish and plants in a symbiotic relationship – because he loves the idea of growing plants without soil. Now, he said he plans on improving the current system he has and improving his aquaponics knowledge.
How did he learn about aquaponics?
Similar to most teenagers, Hart Hopley learns from the internet. He also isn't shy to ask questions.
"I watched YouTube videos, read articles and went by local aquaponics farmers for information."The competition has given Hart Hopley some confidence and he sees a career in agriculture.
“I plan to go on and study agriculture or even start my own business. The win was a huge confidence boost to push me further into the agriculture path.”
The pandemic, he said, has worked in his favour.
“The covid19 pandemic has given me a lot more time to focus on my aquaponics system, as a result, my aquaponics system works and performs amazingly.”
He added: “The aquaponics is a very self-sustaining method of growing plants once it is built and there are plants in it.
"There is nothing much you have to do except feed the fish. I normally plant patchoi, lettuce, mint and chive, but any plant can grow in aquaponics.”
He noted that the system was easy to build, but he did get some help.
“Anyone can do it – my dad assisted me. It took me about three days to gather all the parts and it took two days to put all the parts together – a week in total."
The materials were primarily from recycled stuff.
What are the benefits of aquaponics?
"Surprisingly, aquaponics uses less water and resources than traditional farming.”
He said his produce from the competition has since been donated to his family, friends and a neighbour.
Each category of the competition was judged by districts and the overall prize was in excess of $250,000.
Hart Hopley said he was uncertain what prize he had won.