Basil's Outdoor "Turtle Garden"
In the spring of 2001, we dug up an area of our backyard to create a triangular "turtle garden" for Basil to play in (supervised, of course, since we have not yet made the enclosure predator proof). The enclosure is roughly 7 metres by 6 metres by 5 metres in area. We spread organic top soil on the garden, and at the end of May we seeded it with lots of clover, mixed grasses and weeds, and leafy greens. We also went to a nursery and bought some edible plants (both Melissa Kaplan and the California Turtle & Tortoise Club have compiled useful lists of edible plants), including geraniums, nasturtiums, impatiens, violets and hens and chicks, and some tropical hibiscus that we planted in the enclosure. We also placed a remote thermometer, several rocks, a bit of cypress mulch, a couple of broken flower pots for shelter, some moss and a flat dish with about 2 inches of water into the garden. After a couple of weeks of watering the clover and other seedlings began to grow, and now (at the beginning of August) the garden is very lush and green. We waited a couple of weeks before we introduced Basil to her new garden, for two reasons: one, it allowed time for any pesticides that were on the bedding out plants to be washed away; and two, it only got warm enough in Toronto (above 25 degrees Celsius) by the middle of June.
When we finally did let Basil out into her garden, she immediately started to explore the entire area, stopping every few feet to take a mouthful of clover or some other plant. She also sniffed at and nibbled anything else that was in the enclosureincluding small stones, dirt, and cat poop. While many people mistakenly think of turtles and tortoises as slow, Basil can move very quickly through the garden when she wants to get somewhere. She gets lots of sunlight on her shell and skin, and gets a chance to stretch her little legs and arms as she strolls through the foliage, stopping every now and then to snack on some plant and the odd grub or slug.
We always sit out with Basil when she is in the garden, since we have not yet made the enclosure safe for her (we have lots of cats, skunks and racoons in Toronto, all of which would love to get at a little tortoise like Basil). We usually water the garden an hour or so before we let her out so that it is very wet and humid for her. We have buried some soaking hose throughout the garden, and when it gets really hot and dry we turn that on to increase the moisture content of the soil. We also have a little misting hose that we leave on while she it in the garden that keeps a couple of square feet very wet, and she sometimes will sit under the mist.
It is quite obvious to us that Basil loves being out in the garden, getting fresh air and sunshine, and grazing on all the plants and other organic (and sometimes, inorganic) material she happens upon, so we try to take her out at least once a day. The garden has gotten so lush with foliage that it sometimes takes us five or ten minutes to find Basil after she has burrowed into the midst of some clover or geraniums. Our long-term plans include building a secure fence around our entire yard so that she can stay outside safely. A good article by Darrell Senneke entitled "A Secure Habitat" on the Tortoise Trust web site has some helpful hints on how to make a tortoise or turtle enclosure safe.