Hello from the Pacific NW!


New Member
Nov 24, 2019
Location (City and/or State)
Richland, WA
Hi! My name is Stephanie, and I do not have a tortoise yet. I also tend to talk a lot, especially in writing. Tl;dr- my plan is to adopt a yearling Ibera/Asia Minor tortoise this summer from Northwest Tortoise (local rescue and sometimes breeder). I live in southeastern Washington state.

About me: I am a middle school science teacher, have a cat, a pearl gourami, and 6(ish) cherry barbs (they breed, and sometimes the fry escape becoming lunch). I live with my parents and their cat and two dogs.* My father has Parkinson’s with dementia, and I help my mother care for him and their house. I have kept freshwater fish for about 20 years now, and I used to keep pet rats. I kept rats for about 13 years, and stopped because the older I got, the shorter their 3-4 year lifespan seemed. I have never kept a reptile before.

My avatar is my cat, Miranda, and she deems herself to be Very Helpful in all things.

Why a tortoise:

“Tortoise in a Sweater” is an adorable google search and has been since 2015 or 16, when I first tripped across it online. I keep checking Amazon to see if there is a 2020 calendar out yet.

I’ve been a little in love with bearded dragons, iguanas, monitor lizards, etc ever since I was old enough to switch from “unicorns” to “dragons.” I don’t have the lifestyle to adequately care for a monitor lizard, and I don’t have the heart to get a juvenile iguana and rehome it if it is male and if that male becomes aggressive with me after he reaches sexual maturity.** Bearded dragons are almost perfect, but I don’t have the space at home for an indoor pen large enough for me to feel good about, and they shouldn’t live outside. I might be able to keep a bearded dragon in my classroom, but I also would want to keep a cockroach colony to feed it instead of constantly buying crickets, and my principal said no to that one. :p

Fast forward to last March: the science teacher across the hall had a Russian tortoise of unknown age given to him by a family who didn’t want him any more. His name is Skeeter, and he is a charming and Very Unimpressed little fellow. I used to take Skeeter out after school and grade papers while watching him stomp around the baseball field***.

Skeeter taught me that I love tortoises’ little back legs and how they look too slender to be as strong as they are. I MELT when Skeeter tilts his head until I skritch juuuust the right spot on his neck. I love when they’re tromping around the grass and lift their heads up to “periscope” over the top of the grass. I really like hand-feeding them. I like watching them inspect things. I find it utterly adorable when they sprawl out and relax, one leg in each direction.

So! A tortoise.

Below is The Plan. Pick it apart, that’s why I posted it, but please be gentle. :)

Outside pen:
Prepare the pen in April, over spring break: digging up grass, amending soil if needed, etc.

Prevent digging out: concrete paving slabs buried on end to make a claw-proof wall.

Prevent digging in: hardware cloth or chicken wire buried around the outside of the pen, laid out flat like a skirt. About 18” wide. It doesn’t need to be buried, but if I bury it I can’t trip over it. :p

Prevent death from above: I saw a 4’ x 6’ chicken/rabbit run, with a roof, all made out of the same sort of metal mesh panels that dog gates are made out of. The pen walls will probably be wooden planks fastened to corner posts, and I can staple or latch the metal run directly to the tops of the walls. Staple, if the doors are big enough to let me clean it. Latch, if I’m going to have to take the run off to get in there to clean.

Cats, dogs, squirrels, hawks, crows, magpies, snakes, coyotes, and once a set of six juvenile raccoons have all been seen in my yard over the last 20 years. Herons and cranes have been spotted sampling the koi in neighbors’ yards. Skunks haven’t been seen, knock on wood, but are a possibility.

Inside pen:
One of Mark’s Excellent Enclosures, possibly in the garage****. Possibly not. I’m leaning hard towards the 4’x2’.

Both pens:
  • Living moist hide, maybe two: one for hot side and one for middle ground. ( http://www.graeca-home.de/Krueger 2008 e.pdf)
  • Cool side dry hide (log tunnel, cave, etc)
  • Moist digging bin, if not having the entire substrate for digging (bin for inside: outside we call this “the ground.” Our soil is mainly fine silt- I may amend it with some peat and sand.) I might put a towel down over most of the indoor enclosure if the digging area is only a bin instead of the whole thing. Easy to wash, traction for the tort.
  • Planted tray (see “diet”)
  • Flagstone in basking area
  • Cuttlebone
  • Terra cotta plant saucer water dish
  • Rock pile to climb
  • Various other decor/hides as appropriate (plants vary by indoor/outdoor, wood, hills)
  • Dry digging area? Not sure about this, but it seems like it wouldn’t be needed as the tort would seek humidity until it’s at least 5.

Staples: sedums, hens-and-chicks, and a seed mix from herbiseed designed for Mediterranean tortoises, although I’m not sure about the vetch.

My intention is to grow the above mix of succulents and leafy weeds in seed trays. In the summer they’d be grown outdoors next to, but outside, of the pen. In the winter they’d be grown under a grow light in a T5 fixture in the garage. I’d stagger the plantings and move the trays into the enclosure when the plants are mature enough to feed to the tortoise. I’d rotate the trays in and out of the enclosure as they’re nibbled on, to let the plants recover or be reseeded.

Summer will give me a chance to get a handle on how well this will work, as in summer I can supplement from the garden as needed.

Spring, before the tortoise arrives, will let me experiment with the plants to find out how long it will take the salad bar to mature from seed, and at what interval I will need to plant seed in order to have a continuous supply of grazing for the tortoise.

Why not seed directly into the outdoor enclosure? I probably will, as well. I just want to see how the seed trays work.

Seasonal treats/offerings from the yard: grape leaves, rose petals, daylily flowers, squash blossoms, other herbs/flowers greenlighted or amber-greened by The Tortoise Table. Spider plants and African violets in winter.

Occasional treats from the grocery store: optunia pads, cucumber, zucchini, dill, cilantro, kale, the “fancy salads” (arugula, endive, etc)

Weekly warm soaks, which will also be the weigh-and-measure health check time

Enrichment (toys) after the tort has gotten acclimated to the new place: cat toy style plastic jingle balls, dog toy (rubber mesh ball) stuffed with treats, maybe cardboard box “towns” to explore and forage in. My rats never cared one way or another for the jingle balls, but they LOVED exploring new places and LOVED things-with-food-in to take apart. (They also loved destroying toilet tissue, pulling things through the cage bars, and holey orphan socks. An apple core shoved in a toilet paper tube, or a sock stuffed with Kleenex set on top of the cage, was GOLD.)

I know it’ll be a while before a while before a new thing in the enclosure becomes a point of interest instead of a point of stress, but I’m still excited to find out what the tortoise will find interesting.

Supervised open-yard-time, depending on the location of dogs. Given that @biochemnerd808 ‘s tortoise cozies charmed me back in 2015, I might have to make my own as a yard finder. Then again, @Cowboy_Ken ‘s Elmo balloon was pretty dang charming too. :D

*dogs: trust me, I am aware that to a dog, tortoise = awesome chew toy. Most dogs feel that way about pocket pets like rats and hamsters, too. “Can I eat it?” is probably the first or second question on the doggy decision tree. Our dogs let themselves out a dog door into a fenced run, and also wear invisible fence collars (AKA “the zappy collars”) for when we let them out into the main yard, or in case they escape. It’s a wireless invisible fence and the radius does NOT include the part of the yard where I want to put the tortoise pen.

**I know, it is not a certainty that male iguanas get aggressive with female humans after sexual maturity. I have met many marvelous iguanas, which is why I started to research them. Researching them is how I learned about the possibility of my pet spontaneously deciding I was a rival male iguana and thus not to be tolerated. I still know myself and I know that an animal I can’t handle or interact with is not a good fit for me. I also know what adult iguana bites look like, and they look like DO NOT WANT.

***baseball field: I’m aware of the dangers of pesticide, herbicide, and fertilizers. I also work at this school. Key word: school, meaning children. We can’t apply anything anywhere without announcing it in advance at a school board meeting AND posting signs on all exterior doors for about a week ahead of time saying what, where, when, and why. I can only remember this happening once in the last five years, and it wasn’t in or near the sports fields. It’s reasonably safe to let a tortoise stomp around grazing the baseball field SUPERVISED, as such things as hawks, stray dogs, assorted snack wrappers, a storm drain, and most dastardly of all, children, have been known to frequent the premises. And also they probably shouldn’t drink out of the puddles left by sprinklers, depending on the quality of your local irrigation water. Skeeter sported some bright orange washi tape on his shell as a yard finder, just in case. I know you all know this, I just have to say it again. It’s really amazing how fast and far such a little guy can go.

Your local schools might be similar in regards to supervised tortoises grazing the property, but if you want to do this, check with school administrators for two reasons: #1, IF a school is going to apply something, they’re likely to do it over extended breaks such as spring or summer, especially between intramural or community sports sessions. #2, if kids are present and the supervising adults don’t know you, you might be having a friendly chat with school security or local police, and possibly asked to leave. Do ask, though. Public schools are a community resource, so many school administrators would be happy to let you use the grounds after school and/or on weekends or breaks. *climbs down off of soap box*

****possibly not. The garage is insulated, and the proposed area is away from the dryer vent (random moisture and lint), freezer (waste heat from compressor and lots of random cold blasts), garage doors (drafts), and ceramics studio area (general respiratory hazards). But it DOES get cold in there. I’ve got a min/max thermometer out there to find out exactly what the day/night temperature swing is this winter. If I don’t like the looks of it, the Winter Palace will be inside the house. The garage is my first choice because dogs and trying to avoid having to rearrange the furniture yet again.


New Member
Nov 24, 2019
Location (City and/or State)
Richland, WA
Hi Stephanie, and welcome to the Forum!

You may revise your thought on keeping tortoises once you read our care sheet:


Thank you, Yvonne!

Thank you also for your concern. Learning as much as I can BEFORE getting a living animal, even and especially if that means changing my mind about it, is the point.

I have read the care sheet, and I appreciated it very much, especially how it went into greater depth than the TLady’s guide. Do you have any specific concerns I can focus my research and thinking on?

(I started speculating but it turned into a multi-paragraph essay about fish, which I’ll spare everyone. I have a self-imposed rule that most humans do not need or want an unsolicited aquatic info dump.

...I’m still working on brevity. Especially in writing. ESPECIALLY since teachers stereotypically talk a lot, and it’s a stereotype well-earned.)

Yvonne G

Old Timer
TFO Admin
10 Year Member!
Platinum Tortoise Club
Jan 23, 2008
Location (City and/or State)
Clovis, CA
We have a thread called "Cold Dark Room" in the Personal Promotion section here on the Forum where chatty people are more than welcome. You'd fit right in over there. It's sometimes full of nonsense, so that might not be your cup of tea, but it's a friendly group of forum members from all over the world.

New Posts