How to build a tortoise pool

Markw84

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I have been completely redoing my whole outdoor area where I kept my sulcatas, I have added lots and lots of plants since there is the ability to grow now without getting bulldozed over. Also some planters for sight barriers and more plants to cascade down into the area. One of the big changes is to incorporate a large concrete watering hole, or pool for self soaking. I want it about 6 feet in diameter, so it will be fairly large and require a bit of work. I thought it would be perhaps of interest to some, exactly how I go about the build.

Here is where I am putting the pool. It is fairly close to the lowest area in this yard where I have a drain. I wanted to put in a larger pipe to serve as a way to let gravity drain the pool for easy cleaning. I am completely topping the entire area with new topsoil and reseeding the entire area, so this is being done just prior to my doing that as my intent is to have a nice grass border growing over the pool edge. I first outline the pool area with a shovel cutting in the edge and leaving a fairly steep edge to the grass to facilitate new growth easily right up to the pool

IMG_0464.jpg

I then undercut the grass to lift out sections of sod to place around the edges to give a slope up to the pond edge so no drainage could have runoff that could drain into the pool. It also added a few inches of height needed for my drain to have room for gravity flow to empty the pool I designed the pool to be about 8" deep when finished with very gradual sloping sides.

IMG_0466(1).jpg

Using a 20 ft section of flexible border I got a Lowe's, I used that to create my form for the outside edge of the pool and a perfectly level border to pour the concrete to.

IMG_0467(1).jpg

With a straight board and a carpenter's level, I adjusted the edging to perfectly level. I secured it in place with the stakes they make to secure this border putting the stakes on the outside for removal after the concrete sets.

You can also see the drain I put in. I used a 2" section of PVC pipe. Large enough to not get plugged easily. And since the pipe for the outflow is only needed to be about 4 ft long, easy to maintain if anything should plug it. I've also added an automatic fill line. I put in an extra sprinkler valve and line when I first did my yard to allow for this sometime in the future. That future is now, so I just have to connect to that buried line and set the pipe into the pool edge. I had stubbed out the extra line for the fill line just inside that mow strip you see on the fare right of the picture. So not too far to connect.

That is the 3/4" dill line on the right, with the 2" drain on the left. The drain will be left with enough exposed to put an elbow on. I can then use that to adjust the water level depending upon how much I tip the elbow and the length of a short piece of pipe.

IMG_0482(1).jpg

IMG_0483(1).jpg

I am not using any wire or rebar in the pour. At this size there will be no cracking problem with concrete, especially with water in it. I also want to have the option to remove it by breaking it apart and that would be a real issue with rebar or wire in the concrete. I am calculating the amount of concrete based upon making it around 3" thick. So everything is dug to an extra depth of 3" below where I want the finished pool to be. I am using quikrete sacked concrete. I'm older now, so I use the 60 lb bags so I can handle them more easily. I calculated I need about 15 bags for this pool. That is way too much to try to mix in a wheelbarrow, so renting a small cement mixer from Home Depot was the best option. You have to pour the entire pool before you first bag you mix hardens too much or you will end up with a cold seam and a weaker point in the pour. So I need to be able to do this whole concrete pour in about 2 hours max. Working by myself that is a chore, but doable. I also needed to take advantage of the cooler weather of the morning, so I started at 7AM. The difference between 70° weather and 95° weather gives me at least twice as long before the concrete sets too much. Without the electric mixer, I could not do this.

If you haven't mixed concrete before, there are some tips that will save you some extra work. With the mixer running, have your hose on with a nozzle to easily turn on and off. Put water in the running mixer first. I mix 2-3 bags in each batch. I add about 1-1/2 gallons of water into the mixer first. Then add one bag of concrete. I like it to be too wet for this first bag to get a good mix of concrete that is too wet started in the mixer. If you don't do this, there will be large sections of semi-dry concrete that will stick to the edges of the barrel of the mixer that is a real pain to try to loosen up and break free. Start wet, then add concrete to get the right consistency. I then add about 1/2 of another bag and watch to see it mix. Again I like to keep it on the wet side.

Here is the mixer with the concrete just a bit too wet. It slides easily as the mixer turns and does not break up at all as the blades go through it and try to lift it... The concrete is fairly liquid and slides easily as the mixer turns.

IMG_0486.jpg

I add a bit more water and then the rest of the second bag. I then watch to see the concrete is still in that "too wet" stage. I then start adding the third bag, but only about 1/3 of it. I keep adding until the concrete reaches the perfect consistency. It should be wet enough to fall easily as the mixer turns and the blade cuts through it, but it should start to clump just a bit as the blade cuts through and look a bit more chunky at the bottom of the mixer. Look at this picture below and see the look of the mix at the bottom of the mixer? That's what you want. If you look back at the picture above, you see more of a soupy look between the chucks. The right consistency will save you a lot of grief as you try to shape your pour and get it all done before the first section gets too hard!!!! It may seem like a subtle difference to see it, but adding that 3rd bag slowly, you will easily see it when it starts to change.

IMG_0485.jpg

This batch is now ready to pour. The mixer simply tips to pour, so I tip it and pour this mix directly into the pool area. I immediately set the mixer back and wash down the mixer sides - adding water to the mixer for the next batch. I don't want concrete to start to harden on the mixer and with the next 1-1/2 gallons of water in the mixer, I can simply leave it running while I now start to spread the concrete.

Start at one edge, not the middle. You will want to keep a fresh edge of concrete that has not yet started to set for your next batch. By working from one side, you can keep that edge you are blending with successive batches as minimal as possible. This first batch I spread out in one direction and leave it a bit thin, so the next pour will go on top of it and there is not edge I am trying to blend yet.

Work your way from one side to the next. spread with a shovel, and then smooth with a pool trowel. IMPORTANT! Do no use a concrete trowel. They have sharp, square corners that will simply dig into a curved, concave pour. They are made to finish perfectly level surfaces. You want to use a pool trowel. They have round endss and are designed for shaping concave shapes. You can just see the end of one of my pool trowels in the very bottom left side of this picture.

Here I am just starting to shape the finished level on the very left side. The bulk of the area is still too low so the next pour can go on top of it minimizing the edge to blend between pours.

IMG_0487(1).jpg

When you work the concrete with your trowel, bounce it up and down to settle the concrete and help bring the "soupier" part to the surface you will use to smooth over the aggregate. Just work it back and forth over and over an area and it will become smoother and smoother. Push and shape it into place as you go. You can see above, I have pushed the left back edge up close to its finished level now. I wanted a level edge around the pool, so you can see it taking shape.

Below the pour is complete. This took me about 1-1/2 hours. It is still workable and you can see I have smoothed the surface to the shape I wanted. I bought 16 bags and had 2 left, so I guess I calculated OK for this job!

IMG_0490.jpg

I did use a broom and lightly brushed over the concrete while hard, but still a bit wet on top. This created a texture to the surface so it would not be too slippery for the tortoise walking in and out.

IMG_0494(1).jpg

The next morning, I removed the edging border and stakes.

IMG_0495(1).jpg

The day after that, I backfilled around the edges to fill any gaps between the ground surface and pool edge. I added some plants for hides along the border, and also a few Rose Of Sharon for shading the pool.

IMG_0497(1).jpg

IMG_0498(1).jpg

Next was reseeding the entire yard and putting a top dressing over everything for the grass to grow in properly.

IMG_0511(1).jpg

A month later now, the grass is doing well, the plants have overcome transplant shock and are establishing. My largest of the new tortoises has been enjoying the new enclosure for just over a week now with plenty of grazing!!

IMG_0656.jpg
 

Yvonne G

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What do you mean "new tortoises"? Do tell!
 

Maro2Bear

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I have been completely redoing my whole outdoor area where I kept my sulcatas, I have added lots and lots of plants since there is the ability to grow now without getting bulldozed over. Also some planters for sight barriers and more plants to cascade down into the area. One of the big changes is to incorporate a large concrete watering hole, or pool for self soaking. I want it about 6 feet in diameter, so it will be fairly large and require a bit of work. I thought it would be perhaps of interest to some, exactly how I go about the build.

Here is where I am putting the pool. It is fairly close to the lowest area in this yard where I have a drain. I wanted to put in a larger pipe to serve as a way to let gravity drain the pool for easy cleaning. I am completely topping the entire area with new topsoil and reseeding the entire area, so this is being done just prior to my doing that as my intent is to have a nice grass border growing over the pool edge. I first outline the pool area with a shovel cutting in the edge and leaving a fairly steep edge to the grass to facilitate new growth easily right up to the pool

View attachment 302032

I then undercut the grass to lift out sections of sod to place around the edges to give a slope up to the pond edge so no drainage could have runoff that could drain into the pool. It also added a few inches of height needed for my drain to have room for gravity flow to empty the pool I designed the pool to be about 8" deep when finished with very gradual sloping sides.

View attachment 302033

Using a 20 ft section of flexible border I got a Lowe's, I used that to create my form for the outside edge of the pool and a perfectly level border to pour the concrete to.

View attachment 302035

With a straight board and a carpenter's level, I adjusted the edging to perfectly level. I secured it in place with the stakes they make to secure this border putting the stakes on the outside for removal after the concrete sets.

You can also see the drain I put in. I used a 2" section of PVC pipe. Large enough to not get plugged easily. And since the pipe for the outflow is only needed to be about 4 ft long, easy to maintain if anything should plug it. I've also added an automatic fill line. I put in an extra sprinkler valve and line when I first did my yard to allow for this sometime in the future. That future is now, so I just have to connect to that buried line and set the pipe into the pool edge. I had stubbed out the extra line for the fill line just inside that mow strip you see on the fare right of the picture. So not too far to connect.

That is the 3/4" dill line on the right, with the 2" drain on the left. The drain will be left with enough exposed to put an elbow on. I can then use that to adjust the water level depending upon how much I tip the elbow and the length of a short piece of pipe.

View attachment 302036

View attachment 302037

I am not using any wire or rebar in the pour. At this size there will be no cracking problem with concrete, especially with water in it. I also want to have the option to remove it by breaking it apart and that would be a real issue with rebar or wire in the concrete. I am calculating the amount of concrete based upon making it around 3" thick. So everything is dug to an extra depth of 3" below where I want the finished pool to be. I am using quikrete sacked concrete. I'm older now, so I use the 60 lb bags so I can handle them more easily. I calculated I need about 15 bags for this pool. That is way too much to try to mix in a wheelbarrow, so renting a small cement mixer from Home Depot was the best option. You have to pour the entire pool before you first bag you mix hardens too much or you will end up with a cold seam and a weaker point in the pour. So I need to be able to do this whole concrete pour in about 2 hours max. Working by myself that is a chore, but doable. I also needed to take advantage of the cooler weather of the morning, so I started at 7AM. The difference between 70° weather and 95° weather gives me at least twice as long before the concrete sets too much. Without the electric mixer, I could not do this.

If you haven't mixed concrete before, there are some tips that will save you some extra work. With the mixer running, have your hose on with a nozzle to easily turn on and off. Put water in the running mixer first. I mix 2-3 bags in each batch. I add about 1-1/2 gallons of water into the mixer first. Then add one bag of concrete. I like it to be too wet for this first bag to get a good mix of concrete that is too wet started in the mixer. If you don't do this, there will be large sections of semi-dry concrete that will stick to the edges of the barrel of the mixer that is a real pain to try to loosen up and break free. Start wet, then add concrete to get the right consistency. I then add about 1/2 of another bag and watch to see it mix. Again I like to keep it on the wet side.

Here is the mixer with the concrete just a bit too wet. It slides easily as the mixer turns and does not break up at all as the blades go through it and try to lift it... The concrete is fairly liquid and slides easily as the mixer turns.

View attachment 302042

I add a bit more water and then the rest of the second bag. I then watch to see the concrete is still in that "too wet" stage. I then start adding the third bag, but only about 1/3 of it. I keep adding until the concrete reaches the perfect consistency. It should be wet enough to fall easily as the mixer turns and the blade cuts through it, but it should start to clump just a bit as the blade cuts through and look a bit more chunky at the bottom of the mixer. Look at this picture below and see the look of the mix at the bottom of the mixer? That's what you want. If you look back at the picture above, you see more of a soupy look between the chucks. The right consistency will save you a lot of grief as you try to shape your pour and get it all done before the first section gets too hard!!!! It may seem like a subtle difference to see it, but adding that 3rd bag slowly, you will easily see it when it starts to change.

View attachment 302044

This batch is now ready to pour. The mixer simply tips to pour, so I tip it and pour this mix directly into the pool area. I immediately set the mixer back and wash down the mixer sides - adding water to the mixer for the next batch. I don't want concrete to start to harden on the mixer and with the next 1-1/2 gallons of water in the mixer, I can simply leave it running while I now start to spread the concrete.

Start at one edge, not the middle. You will want to keep a fresh edge of concrete that has not yet started to set for your next batch. By working from one side, you can keep that edge you are blending with successive batches as minimal as possible. This first batch I spread out in one direction and leave it a bit thin, so the next pour will go on top of it and there is not edge I am trying to blend yet.

Work your way from one side to the next. spread with a shovel, and then smooth with a pool trowel. IMPORTANT! Do no use a concrete trowel. They have sharp, square corners that will simply dig into a curved, concave pour. They are made to finish perfectly level surfaces. You want to use a pool trowel. They have round endss and are designed for shaping concave shapes. You can just see the end of one of my pool trowels in the very bottom left side of this picture.

Here I am just starting to shape the finished level on the very left side. The bulk of the area is still too low so the next pour can go on top of it minimizing the edge to blend between pours.

View attachment 302045

When you work the concrete with your trowel, bounce it up and down to settle the concrete and help bring the "soupier" part to the surface you will use to smooth over the aggregate. Just work it back and forth over and over an area and it will become smoother and smoother. Push and shape it into place as you go. You can see above, I have pushed the left back edge up close to its finished level now. I wanted a level edge around the pool, so you can see it taking shape.

Below the pour is complete. This took me about 1-1/2 hours. It is still workable and you can see I have smoothed the surface to the shape I wanted. I bought 16 bags and had 2 left, so I guess I calculated OK for this job!

View attachment 302046

I did use a broom and lightly brushed over the concrete while hard, but still a bit wet on top. This created a texture to the surface so it would not be too slippery for the tortoise walking in and out.

View attachment 302047

The next morning, I removed the edging border and stakes.

View attachment 302048

The day after that, I backfilled around the edges to fill any gaps between the ground surface and pool edge. I added some plants for hides along the border, and also a few Rose Of Sharon for shading the pool.

View attachment 302049

View attachment 302050

Next was reseeding the entire yard and putting a top dressing over everything for the grass to grow in properly.

View attachment 302051

A month later now, the grass is doing well, the plants have overcome transplant shock and are establishing. My largest of the new tortoises has been enjoying the new enclosure for just over a week now with plenty of grazing!!

View attachment 302052

It looks like you added in one of those solar-powered fountain sprayers. Nice touch.!
 

Tom

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I've been waiting for this thread! Thank you Mark.
 

Markw84

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Just thought I would add costs to doing this, as it is not that costly if you do concrete yourself. The cost to form and rent a mixer is more than the concrete:

It cost me right about $130 to do this build for the pool. I had the tools. So if you don't have a pool trowel you will need to add that in - about $30 for a texturing and polishing trowel at Lowes.

Concrete 14 60 lb bags - $50
Flexible resin edging for forming pool - $30
Concrete mixer rental Home depot 1 day - $50

For the amount of concrete needed, I go a little less in thickness for something like this than I would for a patio or walkway pour. I figure on about 3" thickness for my pour. That equates to about 2 sq ft per bag of concrete. My pool was roughly 6 ft in diameter. So π * r² for area of circle: 3*3 = 9*3.14=28.26 sq ft. So I needed 14 of the 60 lb bags.
 
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