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...


  1. You did a beautiful job on this enclosure and it is so nice of you to do this for your tortoises. I hope to build a bigger one for my 2 little RT's to. After all, we just want them to be happy, don't we.

    1. I'm gonna put my Greek tortoise in a outdoor enclosure once its warm enough and add some safe plants too!!!


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