Changing Substrate to Zoo Med Repti Bark

John Brazell

New Member
Location (City and/or State)
Denver
My indoor enclosure is a 2 foot by 4 foot Sterilite Christmas tree storage bin. I have two of them fit together so in the winter when she is burrowed under I can collapse it down to 2 foot by 4 foot and the more active months I can extend it to a 2-foot by about 7 1/2 foot. I am doing research on building her and outdoor enclosure this coming summer but that is a thread for another topic. The current substrate is a mixture of topsoil, peat and vermiculite. Not liking it because it is too difficult to keep any real humidity and I fear that while she is borrowed under for winter she is going to become dehydrated. Not to mention I just noticed mold starting in one corner. So I would like to ask everyone's opinion on this following a plan.
1. I ordered five 24 quart bags of Zoo Med repti bark from Amazon. There seems to be a shortage of it in the pet stores and orchid bark is non-existent at Home Depot and Lowe's this time of year. I got a 5-gallon Home Depot bucket and drilled dozens of small holes in the bottom of it. I empty a bag of Repti bark into the bucket and rinse with hot water from the kitchen sink sprayer.
2. After letting it drain for about an hour pour the bark into turkey roasting pans and back at 300° for 1 hour to kill any mold or fungus spores or gnat eggs Etc.
3. After all of the bark is rinsed and baked I will then remove Tulow and current substrate from her enclosure and clean it.
4. Upon putting the repta bark in the enclosure should I mix it with anything or what about putting a bottom layer of 1-inch vermiculite to help hold moisture and release it?
5. Also along with the bark I see there are a lot of Small wood pieces about about the size of matchsticks in with the bark. Should I pick all that out? I worry about it poking her in the eye or getting lodged in a nostril when she's borrowing.
I do apologize. This seems to be more wordy and longer than I had originally intended. Thank you for bearing with me and all advice and opinions are appreciated. Thank you so much.
 

Yvonne G

Old Timer
TFO Admin
10 Year Member!
Platinum Tortoise Club
Location (City and/or State)
Clovis, CA
I just unbag the bark and pour it into the enclosure, pour a pitcherfull of water over it, mix it up with my hand, smooth it out, pat it down, and Bob's your uncle!!!
 

wellington

Well-Known Member
Moderator
Tortoise Club
5 Year Member
Location (City and/or State)
Chicago, Illinois, USA
No vermiculite. Coconut coir holds humidity well. Add that to the bottom if you want then the wood on top.
I would bake both the wood and coir to kill bugs/eggs in it.
 

John Brazell

New Member
Location (City and/or State)
Denver
I just unbag the bark and pour it into the enclosure, pour a pitcherfull of water over it, mix it up with my hand, smooth it out, pat it down, and Bob's your uncle!!!
Thank you for responding so quickly. I like to bake my substrates because I also have tarantulas and I have had it up to my eyeballs with those darn little black flies that seemed to have laid eggs and then they hatch once they get moist. By the way, my girl is 15 year old Russian and her name is Tulow. I named her that because I thought she was too low to get into too much trouble. Boy was I wrong. Who needs a dog when you have a tortoise.
 

John Brazell

New Member
Location (City and/or State)
Denver
No vermiculite. Coconut coir holds humidity well. Add that to the bottom if you want then the wood on top.
I would bake both the wood and coir to kill bugs/eggs in it.
I do bake my substrates. Coco coir is highly prone to mold what do you think about New Zealand sphagnum Moss?
 

Tom

The Dog Trainer
10 Year Member!
Platinum Tortoise Club
Location (City and/or State)
Southern California
My indoor enclosure is a 2 foot by 4 foot Sterilite Christmas tree storage bin. I have two of them fit together so in the winter when she is burrowed under I can collapse it down to 2 foot by 4 foot and the more active months I can extend it to a 2-foot by about 7 1/2 foot. I am doing research on building her and outdoor enclosure this coming summer but that is a thread for another topic. The current substrate is a mixture of topsoil, peat and vermiculite. Not liking it because it is too difficult to keep any real humidity and I fear that while she is borrowed under for winter she is going to become dehydrated. Not to mention I just noticed mold starting in one corner. So I would like to ask everyone's opinion on this following a plan.
1. I ordered five 24 quart bags of Zoo Med repti bark from Amazon. There seems to be a shortage of it in the pet stores and orchid bark is non-existent at Home Depot and Lowe's this time of year. I got a 5-gallon Home Depot bucket and drilled dozens of small holes in the bottom of it. I empty a bag of Repti bark into the bucket and rinse with hot water from the kitchen sink sprayer.
2. After letting it drain for about an hour pour the bark into turkey roasting pans and back at 300° for 1 hour to kill any mold or fungus spores or gnat eggs Etc.
3. After all of the bark is rinsed and baked I will then remove Tulow and current substrate from her enclosure and clean it.
4. Upon putting the repta bark in the enclosure should I mix it with anything or what about putting a bottom layer of 1-inch vermiculite to help hold moisture and release it?
5. Also along with the bark I see there are a lot of Small wood pieces about about the size of matchsticks in with the bark. Should I pick all that out? I worry about it poking her in the eye or getting lodged in a nostril when she's borrowing.
I do apologize. This seems to be more wordy and longer than I had originally intended. Thank you for bearing with me and all advice and opinions are appreciated. Thank you so much.
You don't need to do any of that. Total waste of time and effort.

Neither Topsoil, vermiculite, nor peat should ever be used as tortoise substrate. Your substrate holding water is a function of how much water goes in and how much evaporates out. One substrate doesn't work any better at this than any other. If your substrate is drying out, you need to add more water. This is that case with any substrate.

We recommend orchid bark, coco coir, and cypress mulch because all three are resistant to bacterial and fungal growth.

The little bugs are not coming from your substrate. They come from the surrounding environment and colonize warm damp substrates. These insects are harmless detrivores. They keep things cleaner in our enclosures by consuming the resources that would allow bacteria and fungus to grow and thrive.

For about 3 decades I've been cutting open o bark bags and dumping it straight into my enclosures. I've never baked it, rinsed it or any of that, and I've had zero problems with it.
 

John Brazell

New Member
Location (City and/or State)
Denver
You don't need to do any of that. Total waste of time and effort.

Neither Topsoil, vermiculite, nor peat should ever be used as tortoise substrate. Your substrate holding water is a function of how much water goes in and how much evaporates out. One substrate doesn't work any better at this than any other. If your substrate is drying out, you need to add more water. This is that case with any substrate.

We recommend orchid bark, coco coir, and cypress mulch because all three are resistant to bacterial and fungal growth.

The little bugs are not coming from your substrate. They come from the surrounding environment and colonize warm damp substrates. These insects are harmless detrivores. They keep things cleaner in our enclosures by consuming the resources that would allow bacteria and fungus to grow and thrive.

For about 3 decades I've been cutting open o bark bags and dumping it straight into my enclosures. I've never baked it, rinsed it or any of that, and I've had zero problems with it.
Thank you
 
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John Brazell

New Member
Location (City and/or State)
Denver
So Yvonne Tom, you don't think I need to pick the wood sticks/ splinters out before I put it in the enclosure? You have never had a problem with these causing damage to your tortoises eyes or getting caught in their nostril?
 

Yvonne G

Old Timer
TFO Admin
10 Year Member!
Platinum Tortoise Club
Location (City and/or State)
Clovis, CA
I guess it really depends upon how big the pieces are. If there's something that bothers you when you're spreading it out and patting it down, you can pick it out. But I buy mine bulk from a plant nursery and have never had any pieces I worried about.
 

Tom

The Dog Trainer
10 Year Member!
Platinum Tortoise Club
Location (City and/or State)
Southern California
So Yvonne Tom, you don't think I need to pick the wood sticks/ splinters out before I put it in the enclosure? You have never had a problem with these causing damage to your tortoises eyes or getting caught in their nostril?
I've used orchid bark for more than 30 years, starting in the late 80's. I can't even remember how many different sources I've gotten it from, but I've definitely used the Repti-Bark from ZooMed many times. I have never had one single issue with it and I've never removed any pieces.

You can post a pic of the pieces that concern you if you want. Happy to take a look to see if you've gotten an "off" batch or something.
 

maggie3fan

Well-Known Member
Location (City and/or State)
Crazy Train
I have been using fine grade orchid bark or cypress mulch and like the others, open dump pour. I have never thought about or experienced splinters in any reptile under my care. These are wild animals, in my mind their instincts for themselves are better than ours for them. They don't have anybody in the woods making sure nothing gets them...just sayin;)
 

John Brazell

New Member
Location (City and/or State)
Denver
20210123_092447.jpg 20210123_092447.jpg so here is a picture of the enclosure after I changed out the substrate. I took the temperature of Tulow herself as well as the substrate around her to match the water temperature of the water I let her soak in while I was redoing the enclosure. So what I ended up doing was putting a 2in layer of mixed substrate on the bottom. ( Eco Earth, New Zealand sphagnum Moss and about three cups of activated carbon like I use in my fish tank filters) then I added four 24 quart bags of repti bark. I washed and returned the items to her enclosure. I put her half log in and dug out a little bit underneath it as that is her favorite place to burrow in. When I put her back in she wandered around the enclosure and inspected everything for about 5 to 10 minutes then went under her half log and started digging so I guess it means with her approval. For me it looks a lot nicer but more importantly it will be better for her and her health. Again I thank you for all your advice, information and help. Now I've got to sit down and plan out how I'm going to build her outdoor enclosure this spring.
 

John Brazell

New Member
Location (City and/or State)
Denver
Oops somehow it downloaded the picture twice. But I also forgot to add that the sticks across the top of the enclosure is what the 48 inch UVB light strip rests on but I removed it to take the picture. And the heat lamp is off while she's under.
 

Yvonne G

Old Timer
TFO Admin
10 Year Member!
Platinum Tortoise Club
Location (City and/or State)
Clovis, CA
Oops somehow it downloaded the picture twice. But I also forgot to add that the sticks across the top of the enclosure is what the 48 inch UVB light strip rests on but I removed it to take the picture. And the heat lamp is off while she's under.
This is a good idea so you don't have to use the clamps, however, it's almost as dangerous at the clamps. All it takes is for the enclosure to be jiggled and the sticks to fall in and your lamps will be down on the substrate. Maybe make them longer? or drill a hole through the sticks and the plastic and run a screw through it or put a dab of silicone under the sticks?
 

John Brazell

New Member
Location (City and/or State)
Denver
You cannot see it or able to tell in the picture but...
I chose Square rather than round dowels so they can't roll around. These sticks are glued to the top edge of the enclosure with Gorilla Glue. Trust me they are not going to move because when the enclosure is completely empty I can literally lift the whole enclosure by the sticks. The heat lamp is held in place by super sticky double-sided Flex tape so it will stay in place and cannot fall into the enclosure. I am going to be replacing that heat lamp in the near future anyway.
 

SJTort

Member
Tortoise Club
Platinum Tortoise Club
Location (City and/or State)
Southern California
I've used orchid bark for more than 30 years, starting in the late 80's. I can't even remember how many different sources I've gotten it from, but I've definitely used the Repti-Bark from ZooMed many times. I have never had one single issue with it and I've never removed any pieces.

You can post a pic of the pieces that concern you if you want. Happy to take a look to see if you've gotten an "off" batch or something.
With the orchid bark as a substrate, do you find it more difficult to find their poop? I've used the coco coir and it's super easy to see it against the light brown background. I prefer the idea of the bark, but I worry that it would make finding the little, dark, 1 inch long poop logs. Just wondering what your experience is with it. Thanks in advance!
 

Tom

The Dog Trainer
10 Year Member!
Platinum Tortoise Club
Location (City and/or State)
Southern California
With the orchid bark as a substrate, do you find it more difficult to find their poop? I've used the coco coir and it's super easy to see it against the light brown background. I prefer the idea of the bark, but I worry that it would make finding the little, dark, 1 inch long poop logs. Just wondering what your experience is with it. Thanks in advance!
My tortoises all poop in their soak water. There is almost never any poop in the indoor enclosures. When there is, I see it immediately on the orchid bark.
 

SJTort

Member
Tortoise Club
Platinum Tortoise Club
Location (City and/or State)
Southern California
My tortoises all poop in their soak water. There is almost never any poop in the indoor enclosures. When there is, I see it immediately on the orchid bark.
Great! Thanks for the info. My 10 year old Mesopotamian Greek poops most mornings right outside of his hide while he is warming up under his basking light. Perhaps, he is regular like that... or maybe that's abnormal? He eats a variety of organic greens and flowers (that I grow myself) from the approved list on The Tortoise Table website and gets soaked 1-2 times a week depending on how dry the coco coir substrate is trending that week. It's typically between 40-50%. He is housed indoor during most of the year for temperature and humidity management.
 

William Lee Kohler

Well-Known Member
5 Year Member
Location (City and/or State)
Eugene, OR
( Eco Earth, New Zealand sphagnum Moss and about three cups of activated carbon
Concerning use of Sphagnum moss in substrate at all many feel it's a bad idea because it can cause intestinal impaction danger. Even mixed in the bottom of substrate it will get stirred up on top in various places over time. Never seen anyone use charcoal on these forums. Maybe a problem or just unneeded?
 

Cleopatra 2020

Well-Known Member
Location (City and/or State)
El Mirage. Az
I used to fear Orchard bark that she would eat it and she was always biting at it in the beginning but I finally came back around to using it and it's fine you don't need to boil it or do any of that you can pour it straight in and just add water and mix it in it holds water really well if your enclosure is completely enclosed you don't need all that other stuff simple is better Orchard bark works great by itself
 
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