Garden Soil for Substrate?

WelshOneEmma

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Hi All,

We are about to collect a leopard tortoise (son's birthday present). My reading suggests a soil/sand mix for substrate. We were going to use soil from our garden, from the molehills. We dont use chemicals or additives in the garden (we also keep bees). I just wanted to double check this would be ok? we were also going to have a small section of grass from the garden. Is there anything I need to be aware of? do you think this will be ok? My reading just says to ensure no additives, fertiliser, compost or chemicals.

Thanks
 

Yvonne G

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No soil of any kind. A very good substrate would be one of these three: Fir bark, Cypress mulch or coco coir. Leopards aren't real fond of grass.
 

ZEROPILOT

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Discount anything that you may read elsewhere as old, outdated information. Because it probably is.
Our members can help you every step of the way.
Welcome
 

Tom

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Hi All,

We are about to collect a leopard tortoise (son's birthday present). My reading suggests a soil/sand mix for substrate. We were going to use soil from our garden, from the molehills. We dont use chemicals or additives in the garden (we also keep bees). I just wanted to double check this would be ok? we were also going to have a small section of grass from the garden. Is there anything I need to be aware of? do you think this will be ok? My reading just says to ensure no additives, fertiliser, compost or chemicals.

Thanks
Hello and welcome. You've been reading the usual wrong sites and info. Most of the care info you find for this species, and others, is all wrong. Old, out-dated, and based on incorrect assumptions of how they live in the wild. No soil and no sand.

Here is the correct care info, including substrate:
 

WelshOneEmma

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ok totally confused now. Even on the other UK tortoise groups they have said soil/sand mix is fine. Also above someone says they don't like grass, but the link says they eat grass along with weeds etc (I planned for a small section of grass in the enclosure).
 

Tom

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ok totally confused now. Even on the other UK tortoise groups they have said soil/sand mix is fine. Also above someone says they don't like grass, but the link says they eat grass along with weeds etc (I planned for a small section of grass in the enclosure).
As I said, most of the care info you find is going to be old, out-dated, and wrong. You have been reading exactly what I am talking about. Most of the world has been doing it wrong for decades. I used to do it wrong, and teach others to do it the worn ways that I was taught. Some of us have learned better over the years. Most have not.

Regular leopards are usually not fond of grass. South African leopards eat grass like a sulcata. Most of the leopards here in the US are of mixed genetics, so you'll see a spectrum of preference for and against grass. Any leopard can be taught to eat grass, but some like it more than others.

To do grass in the enclosure, you will need to have several trays that you can drop into a depression in the substrate. You'll have to rotate through the trays as one gets eaten and trampled.

Feel free to question these things. I want you to learn through the mistakes and experiences of people here, like me, and not have to learn these things the hard way. I wish a forum like this existed when I started years ago.
 

ZEROPILOT

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As I said, most of the care info you find is going to be old, out-dated, and wrong. You have been reading exactly what I am talking about. Most of the world has been doing it wrong for decades. I used to do it wrong, and teach others to do it the worn ways that I was taught. Some of us have learned better over the years. Most have not.

Regular leopards are usually not fond of grass. South African leopards eat grass like a sulcata. Most of the leopards here in the US are of mixed genetics, so you'll see a spectrum of preference for and against grass. Any leopard can be taught to eat grass, but some like it more than others.

To do grass in the enclosure, you will need to have several trays that you can drop into a depression in the substrate. You'll have to rotate through the trays as one gets eaten and trampled.

Feel free to question these things. I want you to learn through the mistakes and experiences of people here, like me, and not have to learn these things the hard way. I wish a forum like this existed when I started years ago.
This forum is a Godsend.
Thanks @Josh
Our members offer up to the moment information as we learn it through trial and error.
We all try to help by sharing this information. It has transformed tortoise keeping like nothing else.
Please take the advice offered here.
Welcome to the forum.
 

WelshOneEmma

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As I said, most of the care info you find is going to be old, out-dated, and wrong. You have been reading exactly what I am talking about. Most of the world has been doing it wrong for decades. I used to do it wrong, and teach others to do it the worn ways that I was taught. Some of us have learned better over the years. Most have not.

Regular leopards are usually not fond of grass. South African leopards eat grass like a sulcata. Most of the leopards here in the US are of mixed genetics, so you'll see a spectrum of preference for and against grass. Any leopard can be taught to eat grass, but some like it more than others.

To do grass in the enclosure, you will need to have several trays that you can drop into a depression in the substrate. You'll have to rotate through the trays as one gets eaten and trampled.

Feel free to question these things. I want you to learn through the mistakes and experiences of people here, like me, and not have to learn these things the hard way. I wish a forum like this existed when I started years ago.
Thanks. I am in the UK if it makes any difference? All the other things I had planned / ordered match with the link I was given. The only thing clashing was the substrate. Does it have to be in a tray? I was thinking of cutting a section of grass with the soil and popping that on top? that said I do have trays as I did similar when we had chicks
 

zolasmum

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Thanks. I am in the UK if it makes any difference? All the other things I had planned / ordered match with the link I was given. The only thing clashing was the substrate. Does it have to be in a tray? I was thinking of cutting a section of grass with the soil and popping that on top? that said I do have trays as I did similar when we had chicks
Hello and welcome from Devon.
Sand can be dangerous, as it sticks to food,and could build up and cause an impaction in your tortoises gut. Also soil can carry fungus and insect eggs etc - you are safer with a bark type substrate, as recommended here.
Best wishes from from Angie
 

zolasmum

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Ok, have ordered some fine grade orchid bark. I assume that's ok?
Yes, I think that's perfectly ok.
Ok, have ordered some fine grade orchid bark. I assume that's ok?
Yes, I think that's quite ok. Once you get your little chap, you will be able to see what he needs - for instance, does he like to dig in the substrate - then you can adapt his surroundings. By the way, do you have a shallow terracotta saucer - the sort people put flowerpots on ?This is best for a water dish, sunk into the substrate to be level with it. This enables the baby to get a drink easily, and if he does fall in, the rough surface of the terracotta will enable him to get out easily too.
 

WelshOneEmma

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Yes, I think that's perfectly ok.

Yes, I think that's quite ok. Once you get your little chap, you will be able to see what he needs - for instance, does he like to dig in the substrate - then you can adapt his surroundings. By the way, do you have a shallow terracotta saucer - the sort people put flowerpots on ?This is best for a water dish, sunk into the substrate to be level with it. This enables the baby to get a drink easily, and if he does fall in, the rough surface of the terracotta will enable him to get out easily too.
I dont have a terracotta one, but have plastic ones. Can I use that until a terracotta one arrives? Do I also need a slate for basking and one for eating? The enclosure has a UV light and a ceramic light for heat.
 

zolasmum

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I dont have a terracotta one, but have plastic ones. Can I use that until a terracotta one arrives? Do I also need a slate for basking and one for eating? The enclosure has a UV light and a ceramic light for heat.
A plastic saucer would be ok, but the terracotta ones have the advantage of the rougher surface - you could try rubbing a plastic one with sandpaper a bit,to roughen it up - however, when you can get terracotta ones, you will find they are also heavier, and therefor less likely to tip over. You can use a slate for eating, as it will help keep the babies beak in trim - for basking, a flattish stone is also good - big enough for the tortoise to stretch out.
I am not very knowledgable about bulbs, so it would be better if you ask someone who knows about leopard tortoises.
Our Hermanns tortoise is 21, and for most of the time we have had him, there has been very little useful information around. This forum is a kind, helpful place, and you and your son will get the best advice around, and learn a huge amount. I am sure you will have a lovely time caring for your baby and seeing him grow and develop.
Angie
 

Tom

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I dont have a terracotta one, but have plastic ones. Can I use that until a terracotta one arrives? Do I also need a slate for basking and one for eating? The enclosure has a UV light and a ceramic light for heat.
Fine grade orchid bark works the best. Good call there. You'll need to periodically dumps some water into it to keep it damp. How much water and how often varies with each enclosure and seasonally too. The lower layers can be wetter, while the upper layers will remain dry-ish and wick the water up from below. This steady evaporation is what will keep your humidity up.

I prefer a flat piece of slate or sandstone directly under the bulb for basking, and then two terra cotta saucers sunk into the substrate. One for food and one for water. This will help keep the food off of the substrate more.

Did they sell you an open topped enclosure? That won't work for this species. Especially not in your cold winters. You need a large vivarium, aka closed chamber. Trying to heat an open topped enclosure would be like trying to heat your house in winter with no roof. Your house heater can run all day and night and your house will never get warm because the heat escapes up and out the top.

I can understand the frustration with the pet shop telling you one thing and us telling you the opposite, but in time you'll learn that pet shops are infamous for bad wrong info, and selling people all the wrong products. We aren't selling anything. We are just a bunch of tortoise keepers who want other tortoise keepers to have a tortoise experience as enjoyable as what we have every day with our own torts.
 

WelshOneEmma

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Fine grade orchid bark works the best. Good call there. You'll need to periodically dumps some water into it to keep it damp. How much water and how often varies with each enclosure and seasonally too. The lower layers can be wetter, while the upper layers will remain dry-ish and wick the water up from below. This steady evaporation is what will keep your humidity up.

I prefer a flat piece of slate or sandstone directly under the bulb for basking, and then two terra cotta saucers sunk into the substrate. One for food and one for water. This will help keep the food off of the substrate more.

Did they sell you an open topped enclosure? That won't work for this species. Especially not in your cold winters. You need a large vivarium, aka closed chamber. Trying to heat an open topped enclosure would be like trying to heat your house in winter with no roof. Your house heater can run all day and night and your house will never get warm because the heat escapes up and out the top.

I can understand the frustration with the pet shop telling you one thing and us telling you the opposite, but in time you'll learn that pet shops are infamous for bad wrong info, and selling people all the wrong products. We aren't selling anything. We are just a bunch of tortoise keepers who want other tortoise keepers to have a tortoise experience as enjoyable as what we have every day with our own torts.
We actually chose a vivarium to start with as we also have a dog and four cats and I had visions of the cats sleeping in an open tortoise table. The shop actually said it was better for the leopard tortoise to help keep the temps up. I actually prefer a hot house as well so always have the heating on in winter. We have the UV light on a timer (12 hours on, 12 hours off) but can change that if needed? Ceramic light will be on all the time. I dont have terracotta dishes but will get some. just have the plastic for the moment but will replace first chance I get. Will google to find where I can get slate as well. And google correct temps we need for the enclosure. I recall reading 80/80, assuming 80 F and 80% humidity?
 

WelshOneEmma

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A plastic saucer would be ok, but the terracotta ones have the advantage of the rougher surface - you could try rubbing a plastic one with sandpaper a bit,to roughen it up - however, when you can get terracotta ones, you will find they are also heavier, and therefor less likely to tip over. You can use a slate for eating, as it will help keep the babies beak in trim - for basking, a flattish stone is also good - big enough for the tortoise to stretch out.
I am not very knowledgable about bulbs, so it would be better if you ask someone who knows about leopard tortoises.
Our Hermanns tortoise is 21, and for most of the time we have had him, there has been very little useful information around. This forum is a kind, helpful place, and you and your son will get the best advice around, and learn a huge amount. I am sure you will have a lovely time caring for your baby and seeing him grow and develop.
Angie
Its only until I get terracotta ones.
 

Tom

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We actually chose a vivarium to start with as we also have a dog and four cats and I had visions of the cats sleeping in an open tortoise table. The shop actually said it was better for the leopard tortoise to help keep the temps up. I actually prefer a hot house as well so always have the heating on in winter. We have the UV light on a timer (12 hours on, 12 hours off) but can change that if needed? Ceramic light will be on all the time. I dont have terracotta dishes but will get some. just have the plastic for the moment but will replace first chance I get. Will google to find where I can get slate as well. And google correct temps we need for the enclosure. I recall reading 80/80, assuming 80 F and 80% humidity?
There are four elements to heating and lighting:
  1. Basking bulb. I use 65 watt incandescent floods from the hardware store. Some people will need bigger, or smaller wattage bulbs. Let your thermometer be your guide. I run them on a timer for about 12 hours and adjust the height to get the correct basking temp under them. I also like to use a flat rock of some sort directly under the bulb. You need to check the temp with a thermometer directly under the bulb and get it to around 95-100F (36-37C).
  2. Ambient heat maintenance. I use ceramic heating elements or radiant heat panels set on thermostats to maintain ambient above 80 degrees day and night for tropical species. You'd only need day heat for a temperate species like Testudo or DT, as long as your house stays above 60F (15-16C) at night.
  3. Light. I use LEDs for this purpose. Something in the 5000-6500K color range will look the best. Most bulbs at the store are in the 2500K range and they look yellowish. Strip or screw-in LED bulb types are both fine.
  4. UV. If you can get your tortoise outside for an hour 2 or 3 times a week, you won't need indoor UV. In colder climates, get one of the newer HO type fluorescent tubes. Which type will depend on mounting height. 5.0 bulbs make almost no UV. I like the 12% HO bulbs from Arcadia. You need a meter to check this: https://www.solarmeter.com/model65.html A good UV bulb only needs to run for 2-3 hours mid day. You need the basking bulb and the ambient lighting to be on at least 12 hours a day.
80 degrees is the lowest temp you want in the enclosure day or night. A CHE on a thermostat will maintain that for you. During the day, you want the whole thing to warm up into the high 80s or low 90s. Think African summer. Not just hot. Africa hot. Usually the basking bulb and UV tube will add some more heat during the day and get this done.
 

Lyn W

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Hi Emma and welcome.
I have a leopard in Wales too.
Forget everything you've read elsewhere and follow the caresheet as closely as possible and your tort should thrive.
My leopard rarely eats grass, fresh or dried if just presented with it. I buy Readigrass from Pets at Home online which I grind finely in a blender then mix some large pinches onto wet leaves to add fibre to his diet especially for the winter. In the summer he loves weeds like dandelions, ribwort and broadleaf plantains, clover, sow thistle.
For winter feeding Aldi, Lidl, Morrisons, Asda and Sainsbury all sell good crispy leaf mixes to use as a base. (don't go for any bistro or italian mixes with beetroot) Florette do a great mix but that can be expensive. I then add other things like lambs lettuce, pak choi, kale carrot leaves for variety. I always soak any salad bag mixes to rehydrate and to wash off any chlorine they may have been rinsed in before packing and I don't feed the white stalky bits. Fruit is bad for them as they can't deal with the sugars.
You'll find www.thetortoisetable.org.uk very useful.
If you post pics of the enclosure and lamps you'll be using you'll get good advice to make sure it's as safe as possible for your tort because pet shops know very little about tort care so often sell unsuitable equipment for the profit.
 
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WelshOneEmma

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Hi Emma and welcome.
I have a leopard in Wales too.
Forget everything you've read elsewhere and follow the caresheet as closely as possible and your tort should thrive.
My leopard rarely eats grass, fresh or dried if just presented with it. I buy Readigrass from Pets at Home online which I grind finely in a blender then mix some large pinches onto wet leaves to add fibre to his diet especially for the winter. In the summer he loves weeds like dandelions, ribwort and broadleaf plantains, clover, sow thistle.
For winter feeding Aldi, Lidl, Morrisons, Asda and Sainsbury all sell good crispy leaf mixes to use as a base. (don't go for any bistro or italian mixes with beetroot) Florette do a great mix but that can be expensive. I then add other things like lambs lettuce, pak choi, kale carrot leaves for variety. I always soak any salad bag mixes to rehydrate and to wash off any chlorine they may have been rinsed in before packing and I don't feed the white stalky bits. Fruit is bad for them as they can't deal with the sugars.
You'll find www.thetortoisetable.org.uk very useful.
If you post pics of the enclosure and lamps you'll be using you'll get good advice to make sure it's as safe as possible for your tort because pet shops know very little about tort care so often sell unsuitable equipment for the profit.
Ooh, where abouts in Wales are you? We are buying from a reptile shop and she seems ok? I have downloaded tortoise table already (they recommended that in the shop) and my son (who's tortoise it is) has asked for it on his iPad as well. We also have access to a field that will hopefully provide a good selection of dandelions. I will figure out how to get signed into this on my phone and can then upload a picture for everyone to critique :) starting to look like we need a basking bulb as well as ceramic one?
 

Lyn W

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Ooh, where abouts in Wales are you? We are buying from a reptile shop and she seems ok? I have downloaded tortoise table already (they recommended that in the shop) and my son (who's tortoise it is) has asked for it on his iPad as well. We also have access to a field that will hopefully provide a good selection of dandelions. I will figure out how to get signed into this on my phone and can then upload a picture for everyone to critique :) starting to look like we need a basking bulb as well as ceramic one?
I'm S E Wales so the other side of the country to you.
Even reptile shops/websites sell unsuitable things for torts like steep sided dishes which can be tipping/drowning hazards or coiled/cfl lamps which burn tort eyes. so double check here before buying we could save you money.
At about 10 years old and almost 14 inches long my leopard is too big for a table or viv so he has his own adapted room with an insulated and heated dog kennel as his hide. He lives in all year round because they don't hibernate and even our summers can be too cold and wet for leopards, but he does have access to the garden in the summer when the ground temps are warm enough.
I use an Arcadia T5 HO tube kit for uvb, (less than £50 on Internet Reptile at the moment), a flood basking bulb also Arcadia (spots are too intense). He now has a reptile radiator ( a large flat che) run through a thermostat to heat his hide, but I also use a CHE for extra heat in his room. The thermostat is important to stop the CHE getting too hot and to keep temps even. They are great for night heat in enclosures because they just give heat - torts need darkness to sleep. (Red heat lamps confuse torts and encourage them to eat things they shouldn't.so avoid those)
 
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