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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
So it’s the first week of real good weather we’ve had so far. So I’ve opened up the new outdoor part to their little greenhouse so they can get used to the new part of the enclosure. It’s still a bit on the cold side, but they’ll need to learn to the exit and entrance are anyway.

So since it’s the start of a new season I find it useful to review and reflect how everything is working out and what I’m go to do this year.

The thread from last year can be found here.

General



Well the position of the enclosure and greenhouse have been great, just as the drainage of the soil. I’ve yet to see a puddle form and the soil dries out pretty quickly. The only ‘problem’ I’ve encountered so far is the humidity in the greenhouse. Moister condenses on the sheet of polycarbonate, making it harder for the light to penetrate it. This moister also collects on the lower half, making the wood moist. I’ve specifically picked out wood that is resistant to this, so we’ll see how this goes.

The pictures also shows the problem with polycarbonate; it can turn yellow after a few years in the sun. There are sheets of polycarbonate that are threated to be UV resistant, but these are quite a bit more expansive but don’t always works as well as advertised. So in a safe environment I’d much rather use glass. It might have a chance of breaking, it does let a lot more of sunshine through.



A benefit of the moister condensing is that it slowly slides down the polycarbonate, creating a nice humidity gradient across the greenhouse. The lower part of the greenhouse has a higher humidity and ambient temperature, while the upper part is more dry and has a higher surface temperature. As seen in the picture, the greenhouse hasn’t got much plant life. I’ve done this on purpose, the greenhouse is prone to be overgrown by herbs and grasses. The plants trap moisture and blocks sunlight, making it less suitable for basking. The drier upper part serves as a nice spot for drying shells, I’ve read that the plastron is prone to infection when it hasn’t got a place to completely dry. This place should help prevent this.



This ‘cave’ has proven to be a favorite spot for the tortoises. It traps moisture from the ground and is a favorite spot for them to dig down for the night. Since I don’t want to expose them so young to a rare cold snap I still bring them inside each night. I think the animals favor this spot because It’s also a favorite climbing/basking spot for several tortoises. Giving them a good spot to warm up right after the cold night.



The second favorite hiding spot for the tortoises. It’s incredible how well camouflaged they are when they dig down in here. I’ve ‘lost’ animals in this small piece of long grass. It used to contain some edible weeds, but these where quickly eaten out. I’ve seen them nibble on the odd grass sprout, but this serves mostly as a cool shelter.



The hotter and wetter part of the greenhouse. I tried planting some weeds here (dandelion). But the newly planted weeds where consumed and destroyed in a couple of days. This part also house a large colony of native black ants (I think Lasius niger), this worried me at the start. I would find a tortoise soundly asleep in the middle of one of their nest, ants crawling all over it. I’ve decided that this can’t be helped and I highly doubt an tortoise would rest inside the nest if the ants where bothering it. I’ve heard some keepers suggest the ants deal with mite infestations that plague indoor terrariums.



This is this year’s new addition to their living space. It’s currently covert in a bit of dirt, but a bit of rainfall and time should fix this. This will be their grazing meadow and will allow them to thermoregulate in spring. It’s covered in two types of mesh, one for strength against larger predators, one with fine mesh to stop birds. Since this is only a temporary border, meant to last only a single season, It’s made to be easily removable. Though the whole thing is pretty heavy, I’ve put some stones on top of the mesh for my own peace of mind.
 

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Discussion Starter · #2 ·
The plants

Since I build the enclosure in summer time I wasn’t able to get any plants that bloom in spring or in the early summer. Since flowers are an significant part of a T. hermanni diet, I would like them to have access to this food source as early as possible. So I planted some new species and removed some plants that didn’t survive the winter. The species that unfortunately didn’t survive:

Hebe: Did fine for most of the winter, but I think a late cold snap did it in.

Erica cinerea: one died completely, the other still has some life in it. Haven’t got a clue why these died, they are a native plant.

Pretty much everything else is already showing new growth and proved to be pretty maintenance free. Only the lavender needed some clippings to remove some dead material



So this is the first season after I dug the enclosure and the turning of soil has made some plant species that weren’t there before pop up. So besides all the wild weeds I described in this previous thread, the following species have also popped up:

Ranunculus repens (Buttercup/creeping crowfoot)
Stellaria spp. (Unknown species of chickweed)

The buttercup is known to be poisonous, but I have yet to see one if my animal give this species a nibble. My attempt to cull the population of ground-ivy (Glechoma hederacea) have failed. But like with the buttercup, I haven’t seen my animals nibbling on this species. The tortoises have shown to know perfectly fine which plants are edible and which aren’t, so I’m not really worried about this anymore.

Some new additions to the plants in the enclosure are a blue and white sage (Salvia nemorosa). These will add a bit of height to the enclosure and will be a pretty sight breaker and shelter.



I noticed water gathering above the entrance and streaming down towards the ‘cave’. So I planted this succulent to redirect the flow of water. Not a clue what species this is, but it does very well. Does anyone else perhaps have any idea what species this could be?



The freshly plant in the lower part of the photo is Gentian speedwell (Veronica gentianoides). It will grow to be about two feet tall (60 cm) and blooms with light blue flowers. Normally I avoid medicinal plants, but I’ve heard this species helps the metabolism and combat parasites. I don’t know if this is true or not, but I’m curious to see how the animals will react to this plant. I’m pretty sure they’ll trample and ignore it, in any case it is pretty to look at while it manages to survive.



The campanula I planted last year did well and was a favored snack, especially the flowers. It’s an easy grower and can take some abuse (being stepped on, being eaten). So I’ve decided to plant some more, only these bloom with white flowers instead of purple ones. So I’m curious if the color will trigger some preference for one plant or the other.



Another easy, hardy and beautiful plant I’m trying this year is stone break (Saxifraga spp.). It’s the pink/red/white flowering plant in the lower left. It does well between rocks and blooms with pretty red or white flowers. According to the tortoise table it’s likely to be eaten to the ground, so I might have to figure something out to shelter it a bit more.



This is another attempt to combat the grass and other weeds that might overgrow the enclosure. I hope this single plant will form a small patch of ‘forest’ in which the adult tortoise are able to hide in that are a bit more humid then the heathers. It’s called bugle (Ajuga reptans) and supposed to be really good a spreading and taking over grass and other plant life. I’m hoping the threading/eating of the tortoises in turn will keep this species in check a bit. But I might have to create some room myself if this plant proves to be a bit too much.



Because I culled the large population of ground ivy this wild Cranesbill geranium (Geranium sp.) had a chance to spread this spring. It’s the plant with the small pink flowers to the right of the birch log. I’m curious to see if it will manage to thrive, my animals seem quite fond of it.

I recently drilled some holes in the birch log in the picture to attract some more insects, snails and other invertebrates. I’ve encountered a tortoise with a good deal of slime around it’s beak twice already. So I want to make the enclosure is as attractive as possible for invertebrates, to give the tortoises an addition to their diet.

I’ve planted a raspberry sprout around the stump to give my animals access to fruit. I know a lot of keepers say Mediterranean species shouldn’t be fed fruit on a significant bases. But if you look at research on wild tortoises, fruit is consumed on a significant bases when seasonally available. Research on wild T. h. hermanni from Corsica has shown that 8% of their diet consist of various fruits. Tortoise dung is stained blue when the blue berries are in season. (Vetter, H. (2006). Herman's tortoise. Lörrach, Germany: Chimaira. ISBN 10:389973602)

So based on that information I decided to plant a raspberry inside the enclosure for the tortoises. I chose for raspberry because of their high fiber and low sugar contents. Birds also tend to pick the bush pretty clean, meaning only a relative small amount of overripe berries will fall in the range of the tortoises. Mind you this doesn’t mean I think indoor animals should be fed fruit weekly, but it I think it can be part of an varied as long as you do it responsibly.
 

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Interesting to see your torts don't touch buttercup. Mine keep it under control well, but only the young plants. Older leaves they don't touch, which is presumably when the plant becomes toxic. Studies have shown that a fair percentage of wild tortoise faeces contain ranunculus species. I use bugle for ground cover too, it forms a lovely dense matt, keeping most grasses under control, but not the sort that spreads by underground runners unfortunately. My tortoises don't eat it, even the flowers but it's easy to keep under control. It provides a good humid area for hatchlings ;) The flowers in early summer are lovely.
Lovely planting and well thought out ecosystems. If only more keepers would look at the bigger picture. It wouldn't be good news for vets though lol :2thumb:
 

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Discussion Starter · #4 ·
Thank you, yeah I've heard many other tortoises also eat buttercup. I haven't got a clue why they are currently skipping it. It's still a rather 'new' plant for them though. Perhaps one will develop a taste for it and the rest will follow. It's on the hand perhaps poisonous to them, the genus contains about 600 species and I know some are poisonous and some are not.

That's good to hear, I picked them out for the tortoises of course. But a pretty garden is also very welcome. So I sincerely hope they'll spare the campanula and sage a bit as well.

Do you have some more suggestion what plants do well with your tortoises? I'd be happy to take a page from your book. ;)
 

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Thank you, yeah I've heard many other tortoises also eat buttercup. I haven't got a clue why they are currently skipping it. It's still a rather 'new' plant for them though. Perhaps one will develop a taste for it and the rest will follow. It's on the hand perhaps poisonous to them, the genus contains about 600 species and I know some are poisonous and some are not.

That's good to hear, I picked them out for the tortoises of course. But a pretty garden is also very welcome. So I sincerely hope they'll spare the campanula and sage a bit as well.

Do you have some more suggestion what plants do well with your tortoises? I'd be happy to take a page from your book. ;)

You will be lucky to save the campanula. With mine it's like giving sweets to children. Sage fairs very well as does thyme and hebe. They do have a nibble on hebe but don't tend to gorge on it. I have an old boat in the side garden, converted to a small herb garden. When the weather is good I leave a few hatchlings in there, under a net and most herbs are untouched. They do a good job of removing bittercress, dandelion and evening primrose seedlings. They also have a nibble on the wild strawberries, but don't devour the whole plant. On the edge of my adults garden (supposedly my garden) there are fruit bushes, so towards autumn a tiny amount of gooseberries, red and black currant and tay berries fall, which don't last long. As you say though, it's for a very limited period and I'm sure the birds take most, being faster and sharp eyed.
 

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Discussion Starter · #6 ·
So the end of summer is near and I've moved and added a fair bit so I thought to give this thread an update.





Probably the biggest change is that I've finally put down a fence. It's made from plexiglass (2 mm thick) and goes 50 cm down in the ground in the deepest part and 30 cm in the most shallow part (that's about 2 feet and 1 feet). The fence is about 60 cm (2 feet) high on the lowest point and 90 cm (3 feet) on the highest point. The benefits of plexiglass is that it's wind resistant, won't discolor in sunlight, light and stronger then glass. The downside is that it's flexible (making it hard to make straight), prone to shattering with slight pressure on the wrong place and can be quite expensive. I got these things for a steal thanks to a production error (the sheets are protected with plastic layer for transport. These sheet only had one side protected by a layer which made them unsuitable for normal sales. Thankfully the sheet where completely undamaged.) I hadn't original planned to use this material, so I had to increase the dimensions of the enclsoure a bit (a terrible shame I know). It's now about 25 square meter (or 270 square feet) large.



I've dubbed this the 'shade'/'wet' area. It's always a bit more moist then the rest of the enclosure since it lies directly beneath an apple and is shaded pretty much all day. It's good place to cool down but also a good place to find a meal. It's literally crawling with bugs since it's very close to the birch logs.

The large amount of bugs and shelter here has also attracted the attention of a new resident; a small lizard has taken this place as a hunting ground. I haven't been able to get a good shot of him, but the little guy has gotten increasingly fatter over the course of the months. He's providing a nice test run for next year, for when I'm planning to add a small group of lizards to the enclosure.



The Veronica I've planted (the upper left of the picture) has expanded immensely this year and dispersed a good amount of seeds. So I hope more pop up, since the plant produce some really nice white flowers and provides an nice shelter spot. It's also a excellent spot for dandelions, I can always pick some big leaves here.

A more recent addition are the Gentian (the two plants with the blue flowers in bottom/center of the picture). So far they have done really well and attract a wide array of insects, even with the few flowers they produce. I always buy new plants with very few flowers and lot's of leaves. Producing a flower requires a lot of energy for a plant, so a plant with a lot of flowers has less energy to produce the leaves it needs to expand and grow.



The Bugleweed (Ajuga) is doing nicely and since I've got some extra room I decided to expand this plant a bit. It forms a really nice thick carpet in which animals can hide and cool down. I prefer this over grass since it's far more easy for an animal to move move through and blooms with some really nice colors. Besides, the leaves can come in some really interesting colors. I currently have three different strands: dark leaves (bottom center of the picture), green leaves (lower left next to the birch log) and purple leaves (center of the picture).



Opposed to the wet and shaded part, you have you dry and sunny part. So I've created a sandy slope facing. I've pulled out all the grass and weeds and added some sand that drains well, but remains firm (don't want to create a sand slide). It's easy to dig into, but won't easily collapse when dry or wet.







The heather is starting to bloom and expand more (the green plant with the purple little flowers), which is attracting al kinds of flying insects. The hosta has just finished blooming and is there to cover the entrance to the hole a bit more. It's also a great plant to attract snails and slugs, which make for a good meal for anything else.



I recently began experimenting with some more alpine plants as well. These have a reputation for being a tad more difficult to cultivate and grow, so I'll see how it goes. They bloom with some stunning colors and do well on awkward place like the one in the picture. Tortoise are bulldozer so I hope making plants grow in hard to reach places make them last longer. This is a Gromwell (Lithodora diffusa) that blooms with vibrantly blue flowers. It only bloomed with a couple of flowers this year, but I hope it expands and grows a bit more. I've read it's a bit iffy with cold snaps though.



Since English is not my native tongue I need to look up most of the plant names when I post something. Most names translate pretty well, but the name of the above plant puzzles me a bit. It's called 'Ice plant' but grows well on the most dry and hot part of the enclosure. I'm fairly certain this is one of the first plants to go when the animals get complete full range of the enclosure though. I feed some old leaves from this plant (it's been in the family garden for decades, I don't feed 'fresh' garden center plants) that are always quickly devoured by the tortoises. It produces some pleasantly smelling flowers and attracts a lot of butterfly's.



I filled the gaps between the rock with sand. This removes some good hiding places, but creates a better basking spot for small lizards. Gaps between rock are normally filled with grasses, buttercup and ground ivy. They quickly overgrow the rocks and block the sun. So I filled in the holes with sand and placed some different kinds of easy to grow succulents to hold everything together and out compete the grass. The larger green plant in the lower left part of the picture is a Sedum. It'll grow out a bit more covering the rocks, creating a shelter that is less likely to overrun good basking-spots. It also produces small pink flowers.

Perhaps I'll give another update at the end of fall, or simply skip to season 3, I'm not sure. In any case I'm still happily experimenting to see what works and what won't.

 

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Ice Plant - Sedum Spectabile.

Lovely enclosure. How many tortoises live in it?

With the Plexiglass - do you get many birds? Just wondered if they would fly in it at all?
 

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Discussion Starter · #8 ·
Ice Plant - Sedum Spectabile.

Lovely enclosure. How many tortoises live in it?
The current group consist of six youngsters (all about 5 cm/ 2 inch big). I'm not sure if i'll keep them in this current formation all thourgh their life time. It depends on how to get a long when puberty hits and in breeding season.

I'll either split them up in smaller groups or house individuel animals. Currently it looks like I've got four females and two males.

With the Plexiglass - do you get many birds? Just wondered if they would fly in it at all?
Well my dog has run head first into it when it was just finished and I see the occesinal butterfly bumping into it. Haven't seen any of the swallows dive into it or something. Perhaps the morning dew stuck to the panels helps a bit, the panels are completly white in the morning.
 
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