Thursday, June 27, 2013

Our Russian tortoises' outdoor enclosure

Our outdoor tortoise enclosure is finished! I like to call it our tortoise garden - since it is built in the spot that used to have flower beds. I still have to hang the fish netting to protect the 5 Russian tortoises from crows and hawks, but otherwise it is fully usable. I have made the frame for a nice little cold frame, but still need to install the polycarbonate sheets. I'll post pictures of that when it's done.

The railing and hardware cloth are installed
I built a railing out of cedar, and installed hardware cloth for additional safety (to keep the tortoises in, and to keep kids out). The tortoise garden has 2 points of entry, where the railing is lower.

Timmy, one of the 5 tortoises who roams here
The tortoises really seem to love roaming about, digging in, and exploring. I have learned each of their favorite spots, so I know where to search to find them in the evening! Roz is the master digger: he makes burrows 2 ft deep that I have to pull him out of!

The view from the ground
I am still working on making some nice dry hiding spots for the tortoises. Until those are done, I've put a board in there (propped up by some rocks), as well as some flower pots.

The view of the length of the tortoise garden
The little seedlings from the tortoise seed mix are starting to come up - the tortoise garden will be filled with plants pretty soon where right now there is mostly dirt.

Plenty of room to roam!
My kids like to help me me bring the tortoises outside into their garden in the morning, and back inside in the evening. I try to involve them in the care, and my oldest son, who is 7, can already identify some of the plants that are edible for tortoises.

Driftwood hide
My friend gave me this nice piece of driftwood (in the picture above). The salt in the wood has helped preserve the wood, and the tortoises have dug out a nice little burrow under it. I have noticed that some aggressive spiders have started making funnel webs under there, so I need to set up some spider traps out of reach of the tortoises. I don't mind garden spiders, but it seems like this kind might bite the tortoises.

Lady enjoying the rocky basking area -
It's shaded for part of the afternoon, but the rocks are warm
I have tried to construct the terrain of the tortoise garden such that it has hills and different environments for the tortoises: dry shade, moist earth, sunny dirt, sunny rocks, different shrubs and plants and weeds. Each of the tortoises seems to have their favorite spots.

Little Jill, enjoying some sunshine
The tortoises got soaked before going outside this time, so their shells are pretty clean in these pics. I have to admit that I think grubby, dusty tortoises are the cutest of all... so next time I will post pictures of nice dirty tortoises instead of clean shiny ones!

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Boo outside

Can you spot little Boo, our Greek tortoise, pretending to be a rock in his outdoor enclosure? 

Boo, trying to blend in
Boo is doing well, but he doesn't particularly seem to like being outside in his enclosure. He spends most of the time hiding in the little hide house, or under the weeds. Since he spends less time exploring and eating than I expected, it's starting to look a bit like a jungle in there... time to harvest some to feed to the other tortoises!

Friday, June 7, 2013

...a new tortoise cozy design: The Ladybug!

Happy Friday! I thought you might enjoy seeing the fun little Ladybug tortoise cozy I just finished for a customer... 

The Ladybug cozy

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Outdoor enclosure progress - it's usable now!

I've been working on finishing our tortoise garden for some time now - and it is now finally usable! It is so important for tortoises to spend time outside, roaming and grazing and basking in the *real* sunshine. I started this project months ago, hunting for materials in the 'free' section of Craigslist, planning, digging, building... and little by little it has come together: a 5ft x 30ft outdoor tortoise enclosure.

A few of the tortoises, roaming about. All the plants are edible for the tortoises.
A lot of the plants I grow in our garden are safe for tortoises. I removed the ones that are poisonous, I added a few more safe ones, and also put out the Tortoise Lady's seed mix that my friend gave me. 

Those pavers get nice and hot in the sun!
Digging a trench all around the garden, and filling it with river rock and pavers in order to prevent the tortoises from escaping, was such hard work! However, I know it was necessary, and now I don't have to worry about any tortoises digging out.

Below is a view of the tortoise garden before I installed the hardware cloth (which is similar to chicken wire, but with smaller holes). As mentioned before, I first dug a trench all along the edges. I dug down until I got to solid packed clay/rock. Then I filled the trench in with river rock and pavers. I placed flat 11" x11" cement pavers over the filled-in trench, and then built the border, using re-claimed pressure treated wood a neighbor gave me. The posts are cedar, except for the corner posts, which I also got from the neighbor for free. I still need to build a railing on top, to make it all look a bit nicer, now that the hardware cloth is attached - I'll post pictures of that later. Finally, I am attaching fish net above it all, coming down from the eaves, to keep out crows and hawks.
The partition between Lady's area and the others will come down
once she has been with us for a few more months.
In addition to the shrubs that were already there, and the plants that I added, I also tried to make the landscape in the tortoise garden as interesting as possible. I made little hills, I put in dirt and rocks with different textures, and I built a few different hiding opportunities.

Timmy climbing up on top of one of the hides...
Tortoises are little tanks... they like to bulldoze, and I am fully aware that the tortoise garden won't stay as 'put together' as I would like it to. Do you see Timmy climbing onto the hide in the picture above? She has knocked all the rocks off of the top in the meantime. Oh well...

Lady pigging out on some turnip greens
Below is a view of the length of the tortoise garden, as seen from the edge of our lawn. These pictures are a few days old, so the hardware cloth isn't up yet. I'll post more updated pictures later on. The eaves of the roof overhang about half of the width of the tortoise garden, so it actually is pretty dry towards the back, even when it rains. I will have to run a sprinkler there during the heat of the summer to keep the plants happy.

The view of the length of the tortoise garden
We have all enjoyed watching the tortoises roam in a more natural environment. They always loved walking around in the grass, but we always had to worry that they would escape! Now we can sit back and relax.

Mila, coming out of the shade to get some more sun
If you are planning to build a tortoise garden, I recommend you research plants that are safe for tortoises. Some of them are delicious to the torts, others might not taste great to them, but are harmless if they do happen to take a few chomps out of something. There are good lists of tortoise-safe plants HERE and HERE.

Three of the tortoises roaming about
Raspberry leaves are a favorite snack for my tortoises, and a few of them will nibble on the hosta. The tall phlox (see above picture) is tasty to them, as well. The hens and chicks, dandelions and other smaller plants get mowed down pretty quickly...

Two of the tortoises grazing
Turnip greens seem to be a favorite. If it gets eaten down too far, I'll just put a gallon milk jug over top (with the bottom cut out) to protect it for a week or so, to give it a chance to grow back.

Lady enjoying the shade
A few weeds had naturally grown in this area, and are slowly being eaten away at.

Mila snacking some more
At the end of each day, I bring inside my very grubby, but very content tortoises. We have raccoons in our neighborhood, so I don't want to risk a tragic night-time event.

Do YOU have a spot in your yard where you can build a tortoise garden? An outdoor enclosure can be a s large or as small as you would like... and if you use re-claimed materials like I did, the cost will be virtually free, except for good old back-breaking digging and sweat...