Building Our Turtle and Tortoise Resort

Markw84

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I've had requests to show how I built the "Turtle and Tortoise Resort" and detail how such a large DIY project was actually done. I thought since it was so involved, and so many different things were done, that it would be boring. But the suggestions was that those who were interested could follow, others can certainly ignore. So here we go. It will be over several posts and a long journey.

We moved from Oakdale two years ago now. We wanted to downsize a bit, but mostly wanted to be close to Brenda’s work and most of the grandkids who lived in the Sacramento area. We live in our backyard more than in the house and I created a great place we enjoyed immensely. So I knew, with the move, I was undertaking a big project to make something we could enjoy as we were accustomed to. I had lived in Oakdale 17 years and had ½ acre so room for a nice yard, pool, pond, and large tortoise area. From the patio you could see the pond with another sunken patio there, and behind that the tortoise area.

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The Tortoise area was 50’ x 120’, so I devoted 6000 sq ft to them, but it still left a great size yard. The only picture that kind of shows the whole area was several years old…

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Here’s one from close to the time we moved with Brenda making it rain!

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The pond was about 6,000 gallons and was the 5th pond I had built. This was the 4th time I put windows in a pond, and used the sunken patio feature. Each pond kept getting bigger, with more windows!

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We loved it there. It was also just two blocks from the golf course, and I had a nice golf cart in the garage, I would hop in almost every day to drive down and play golf. I even served my term on the board of the golf course and was President in 2006-2007. Between activities at the course, then people coming up to the house to enjoy the pool and the “turtle and tortoise Disneyland” it was great, but as the grandkids kept popping out of our kids, being closer to them started to take precedent.
So… May of 2014 we moved from that to this:

the beginning.jpg

But before we even closed on the house, I had already drawn up the plans for my new vision. So, Since I have had several requests to go through how I built the Turtle and Tortoise Resort, it will take some time, but I will bore those who wish with the details of how I turned the picture above into this -- doing absolutely everything myself!

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Next post – how do you get ready to move 18 - 24” koi, plus 60 turtles, and the tortoises??
 

georgeandbessy

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I've had requests to show how I built the "Turtle and Tortoise Resort" and detail how such a large DIY project was actually done. I thought since it was so involved, and so many different things were done, that it would be boring. But the suggestions was that those who were interested could follow, others can certainly ignore. So here we go. It will be over several posts and a long journey.

We moved from Oakdale two years ago now. We wanted to downsize a bit, but mostly wanted to be close to Brenda’s work and most of the grandkids who lived in the Sacramento area. We live in our backyard more than in the house and I created a great place we enjoyed immensely. So I knew, with the move, I was undertaking a big project to make something we could enjoy as we were accustomed to. I had lived in Oakdale 17 years and had ½ acre so room for a nice yard, pool, pond, and large tortoise area. From the patio you could see the pond with another sunken patio there, and behind that the tortoise area.

View attachment 180857

The Tortoise area was 50’ x 120’, so I devoted 6000 sq ft to them, but it still left a great size yard. The only picture that kind of shows the whole area was several years old…

View attachment 180858

Here’s one from close to the time we moved with Brenda making it rain!

View attachment 180859

The pond was about 6,000 gallons and was the 5th pond I had built. This was the 4th time I put windows in a pond, and used the sunken patio feature. Each pond kept getting bigger, with more windows!

View attachment 180860

View attachment 180861

We loved it there. It was also just two blocks from the golf course, and I had a nice golf cart in the garage, I would hop in almost every day to drive down and play golf. I even served my term on the board of the golf course and was President in 2006-2007. Between activities at the course, then people coming up to the house to enjoy the pool and the “turtle and tortoise Disneyland” it was great, but as the grandkids kept popping out of our kids, being closer to them started to take precedent.
So… May of 2014 we moved from that to this:

View attachment 180862

But before we even closed on the house, I had already drawn up the plans for my new vision. So, Since I have had several requests to go through how I built the Turtle and Tortoise Resort, it will take some time, but I will bore those who wish with the details of how I turned the picture above into this -- doing absolutely everything myself!

View attachment 180864

View attachment 180865

View attachment 180866


Next post – how do you get ready to move 18 - 24” koi, plus 60 turtles, and the tortoises??
WOW ;)
 

wellington

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Wow, I think I would have had to tell the kids to move closer. But, you were able to make a nice place again. Love the ponds and pools you did. Then there sits the typical plastic kiddie pool. Too funny
 

Markw84

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Nice!
That's a mini house for tortoise in the back of the last picture?
Yes it is. Will show more on that later...
Wow, I think I would have had to tell the kids to move closer. But, you were able to make a nice place again. Love the ponds and pools you did. Then there sits the typical plastic kiddie pool. Too funny
Thanks, Barb! You know, the kids work, Brenda's work, and I'm semi-retired and do a little from home - so... AND the kiddie pool is actually for the dog to cool down in! Can't keep the grandkids out of our "sipping" pool!
 

Markw84

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Chapter TWO

So with a borrowed tractor, and a great relationship developing with a Pro Services rep at Lowes, the project begins.
We had plans that took up the entire yard, but one section in the back right would be the last, and separate section to work on, so I could put a temporary pond back there, out of the way. That would allow me to work on the rest of the yard with the fish and turtles taken care of, but not in the way of construction.

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Since I had a good number of large koi and lots of turtles, I needed as large a temporary pond as possible, but space was an issue. Plus it was all to get torn out within a year! I needed enough depth to keep it from overheating and for protection against the ever-present blue herons, so needed to go at least 30” deep. I decided to go with block sides and a pond liner. Since I was not motaring the block, just dry stacking, I had to consider the pressure of the water wanting to push the walls over. The solution was to just go 2 courses high with block, drive rebar down against the inside edge of the centers, and fill with dirt. I have clay hardpan, so it becomes quite hard when packed and wetted in place.

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By digging down and creating a berm the block would set on, it would give me almost 3’ depth. I could then also stack dirt up the outside covering most of the first course for extra strength.

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Since I always use a gravity flow filter, with pump return, I calculated I needed at least 4” pipe for a drain. I was installing 2 – 3” drains and each end of the deeper ends of the pond.

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I could then close in the pond and get the walls to height.

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I always like overkill for filter, and always make my own that I know works. For this temporary pond, I used a 300 gal Rubbermaid stock tank since I didn’t want to build one in that would be harder to remove.

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I have the 4” pipe flowing into a smaller 26” square storage bin as a pre-filter. You can see on the very right above. In that small tote, I had the inflow at the top, and then two matala pads to pre-filter, with the outflow at the bottom. I then connected a 4” line from there to the 300 gallon tub. For a biological filter, I use the old “green machine” by Hazelock filter pads that I started using about 20 years ago, and are now quite hard to find. They are 12” tall and about 5” square with a 1” hole down the center. That allows a nice large colony of beneficial bacteria to get established in a very small surface square footage. I started the filter by using ½ of the pads from “dirty” ones in my Oakdale pond. So the little water in the bottom while installing them looks dirty, but once filled it was well diluted and started working properly from the very beginning.

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The water is drawn through the pads into 2” pipe with 6 pads each. Those pipes flow into a 3” line that exits the tub on the left and goes to the pump there. I use a pump designed for constant circulation in radiator heating systems in homes and large commercial operations. They will run 30 years 24/7 with little maintenance, and are extremely energy efficient. The pump I use here draws 400 watts and pumps just over 100 gallons per minute. I have the outflow to the pond split to the pipe you see coming over the tub on the upper left. That allows me to divert some of the flow immediately back into the filter, and reduce the amount going straight to the pond since the temporary pond is only 3000 gallons. The final pond is designed to be 10,000 gallons and will use this same pump. This double filters some of the water, and also allows a reduced flow needed on the intake. I knew a 4” line gravity fed would really only handle about 3500 gal/hr with a 4” drop gravity feed by my calculations. So the intake system could not handle the full pump capacity.
So now left with installing the liner. I used an EPDM liner. Those are excellent, and had to bite the bullet on a $380 investment that would be thrown away within a year. But they are very strong and resistant to any possible penetration by even my largest turtles’ claws. But they are HEAVY! This one weighs about 180 lbs. so it is awkward to get in place, and was quite an operation for just Brenda and me.

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Once laid out I left enough to drape over all the tops of the blocks to cut off and place a cap on top to hold in place. On the far right is an area I left lower with the liner draped over a 2” pvc pipe set at exactly 1” above water level. I could then backfill behind with a dirt, peat, sand mix for a small land area but big enough for any egg laying that needs to be done before the permanent pond is in place. I will take the wall on either side of that area up another course to escape-proof.
We filled it and smoothed out folds best we could as the water pressure pushed the liner tight.

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All that was left was to cut the liner excess and place a cap to hold in place.

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The pump was now started. Brenda got the job of screwing on the inlet screens needed on the pond drains to keep fish or small turtles from being able to get into the underground pipes.

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Since I took ½ of the “dirty” established filter pads from my pond in Oakdale all was ready for the fish. I transported them over a few weeks to ensure the water and filter were working properly without too sudden a load as this pond will be overstocked as a temporary solution. I used large storage bins, putting 1 or two koi in a bin with about 6” of water. As it was a 1 ½ hour trip, that worked well and all arrived without a problem.

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I got the turtles after a month of the pond running and the fish well established. We purposefully arranged a long transition where we moved into the new home almost 75 days prior to having to be out of the Oakdale house. I needed the time to get the temporary pond ready and the tortoise enclosure.
This pond was 12’ x 18’ and took me two weeks to complete. It held about 3500 gallons. A bit small for the animals I had, but it was temporary. It cost just under $1000, but some of the materials I was able to repurpose later. It actually came out pretty nice, and my friends and neighbors were always amazed to hear I was simply tearing it all out the next year.
I added a basking platform in the middle of the pond as fall came and the sun dropped further and kept the land area in shade most of the winter. The turtles really stacked up to take advantage of a sunny day. Took this through the slider window or they would have all dove to the bottom. Even though the turtles had been extremely used to people, swimming up for food for years, when moved to this smaller pond, made even smaller feeling to them with no windows, they all became extremely shy while in this pond.

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I also needed something for my spotted turtle group. They could not go in a straight sided pond with the cold weather over the winter. So I brought up a 4’x8’ enclosure I made for them I was previously using to house the smaller ones as they grew the first 3 years or so. Again, more crowded than I would ever design, but worked for the short term. The new pond included a complete upper pond with a max depth of one foot and sloping sides, and plenty of plants. Specifically, to give them as natural an environment as possible.

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SO… kind of messy and a bit crowded, but all the turtles and fish were now at the new location. Next up – the TORTOISES!

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Yvonne G

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A whole lotta' work for temporary, but after seeing the finished product, well worth it.
 

Markw84

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A whole lotta' work for temporary, but after seeing the finished product, well worth it.
Yes, but I thought it would be interesting for some reading this to give an idea on a simpler way of building a quite efficient and nice pond. Doubt if anyone would want to tackle the project coming up!
 

wellington

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Wow. How many of you are actually doing all the work? Not just you and your wife? That's crazy and I love it. Man, I need you to help with my yard.
Why is it though you didn't start with their perminent pond and go from there?
 

Markw84

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Wow. How many of you are actually doing all the work? Not just you and your wife? That's crazy and I love it. Man, I need you to help with my yard.
Why is it though you didn't start with their perminent pond and go from there?
It was just me and Brenda helped on weekends.

Do you mean just start the thread with the permanent pond build? I thought it would be good to show two totally different styles of pond construction

If you mean why didn't I just start building the permanent pond and eliminate the need for a temporary? Well, I estimated the pond would take at least a year to get to where I could fill and use it. Could only stretch the transition between houses 75 days
 

wellington

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No, loving this thread, don't change a thing of how your telling it.
i was asking about starting with the pond build first, in the yard. But, I get it. You were very lucky to get 75 days.
Wow, that's a lot of work for just one person and a weekender. But boy I sure bet you enjoy it more knowing it's built by your own hands. Such great ideas and great work.
Can't wait for next chapter.
 

Markw84

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No, loving this thread, don't change a thing of how your telling it.
i was asking about starting with the pond build first, in the yard. But, I get it. You were very lucky to get 75 days.
Wow, that's a lot of work for just one person and a weekender. But boy I sure bet you enjoy it more knowing it's built by your own hands. Such great ideas and great work.
Can't wait for next chapter.
Part of the issue is I've never found any pond or pool contractor who knows how or would be willing to tackle Windows in a concrete ( or any type) pond.
 

wellington

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Part of the issue is I've never found any pond or pool contractor who knows how or would be willing to tackle Windows in a concrete ( or any type) pond.
Wow really! I would think they would jump at it and know how. Btw, are you going to tell us how:D when you get to that part?
 

saginawhxc

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This thread is amazing. Thank you for sharing this with us. I'm seriously impressed. I would love to do something like this someday.
 

Fredkas

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Thank you very much for sharing. I really enjoy this thread. Keep it up. Plese post as many as possible lol. I really like DIY stuff. Oh it is amazing.
 

Markw84

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Chapter THREE

Within the 75 day window, from moving into the new house to having to be totally out of the Oakdale house, I also had to get the tortoise area ready for the Sulcatas. That meant in addition to the temporary pond for turtles and fish, building their area, with tortoise house and grass in and established before letting a herd of 15 Sulcatas loose on it! Going from a ½ acre to ¼ acre lot, I also realized I had to downsize the group. So I also started putting out feelers for places to rehome some of the tortoises. In the meantime, I had to get things underway as the clock was running.
The west side of the house was to be the new tortoise yard. It would be adjacent to the pond on one side. As the water level at that side was to be about 16” above grade, the wall for the tortoise yard would also be the side of the pond. The neighbor’s yard on that side was about 35” above our lot, with a slope in our yard down to our level. I wanted as much room as possible, so needed to construct a retaining wall to maximize usable lawn area instead of a slope. That meant, lost of digging, lots of concrete work, and lots of masonry work!
First thing was taking out a panel of the fence and putting in a double gate for access. Our lot is nothing but cobble mixed with a thick, clay dirt on top of hardpan. I took forever to dig as much as possible with the tractor, and then the rest by pick and shovel. I also cut in further where the tortoise house would go to again, maximize space and limit the area taken up by the tortoise house.

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Next up was forming, and pouring the footing complete with rebar for reinforcing the wall. I was filling all the cells solid with concrete for added strength, and anywhere the wall also served as a side to the pond, it created added strength and helped with waterproofing.

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Then the masonry work. I ended up laying over 900 concrete blocks in this project! Plus, mixed over 950 60 lb sacks of concrete in that mixer you see. That’s not counting another 7 yards I got delivered for the shell of the pond that needed to be poured in one step – no seams! SO… I started “eating the elephant” one block at a time!

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And finally got to the point where I needed to start some planting to get growth going ASAP. So I back filled and added compost and amendments to get the citrus hedge started. I also started bringing in topsoil and amendments for the grass area. In the middle I scooped out a big area for a planter deep enough to give a great growing depth for a nice shade tree and some bushes for cover.

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I had to run water for the landscaping and eventually the pond fill line, as well as electrical. Of course, the electric panel was on the total opposite side of the house! I put in some extra breakers in the panel, and then ran some 12/3 wire through the attic to the opposite side of the house, then underground wire in conduit the rest of the way. This would accommodate 2 separate 20 amp circuits. Of course both GFCI.

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I could now level off the grass area. Form and pour the mow strip for the planter area.

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And get the sod down so it could start to establish. I could only put in a little over ½ of the grass area as I needed to leave access to the yard for the pond construction. This would at least give me enough to give the tortoises enough area to be able to get them moved and out of the old place.

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While the grass was growing, I could now get the tortoise house far enough along to move the tortoises. Since this was now June, the weather wasn’t as much of a concern as it would have been in winter. I originally planned on building it to look like natural stone with two cave entrances. So I made a flat top I could then plaster and shape. At this point we have things established enough to bring the tortoises up. I set up a temporary barrier using wrought Iron fencing I had built for the Oakdale area to allow access, and give them a good part of their new yard.

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Then Brenda decided, after seeing this stage, she wanted the tortoise house to match our house. So I took off the flat roof and build a hip roof with pitch to match ours. The opening on the right has a top section that swings open for access. The roof section directly above will be hinged to open up.

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I put 1 ½” insulation board on the ceiling to make it hold heat better. Hung two flood lights inside and added the heater. Add some stucco, shingles, and paint the eves, and the house was fully functional. And matched our house!

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Once I got the project where the pond was dug, and the concrete shell poured, I could add a mowstrip along the house, and finish the rest of the grass area. I made the open area between our patio and the tortoise area closed off with the 18” wrought Iron rail with a 3’ gate for better viewing and sight line. I still had a temporary section blocking them from the wall I was adding tile and cap to finish things off.

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I finished off the block wall by installing a stack stone tile. I capped the back portion with tan pavers, but the area around the pond got the travertine cap with 2” sides to make the pond totally escape proof and give a finished look. We have by now sized down to 5 Sulcatas that have the most special meaning to us. 3 adults and 2 juveniles.

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This makes the tortoise area a great part of the “Resort” and is so visible - and a part of the patio and the areas we live in so much. When the tortoises see us out, they rush over to see if there are some treats – which if the grandkids are over, there always is!

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Lots of memories being made!

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Next up – THE POND!

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bouaboua

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WOW. WOW, WOW, WOW.:eek::eek::eek::eek::eek::eek::eek::eek::eek::eek:

Thank you for sharing. I will LOVE to come for a visit~~:rolleyes::rolleyes:
 
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