Horsefield Substrate/Bedding

Celine2019

New Member
Joined
Jan 8, 2019
Messages
17
Location (City and/or State)
Manchester
Hi guys!
Just wondering on substrate alternatives for my tort, I used to use the tortoise life soil but I got told the small stones in there were risky when she was tiny. So I switched to coco coir, which is great but gets all in her food and everywhere. It’s so messy. I was thinking of wood chips or something else?? If not we can stick with coco husk but would be interesting to see people’s thoughts! She’s nearly 2, a lot bigger than when I was first posting on here :) x
 

Tom

The Dog Trainer
10 Year Member!
Platinum Tortoise Club
Joined
Jan 9, 2010
Messages
48,424
Location (City and/or State)
Southern California
I like the coco coir best when they are little, but then it gets too messy, which is exactly what you've described. Fine grade orchid bark works best for adults. Its also called "fir bark" if you can find it in bulk at a garden center.

Most wood chips, like beech for example, shouldn't be used because you can't keep it damp without getting mold. Fir bark can be kept damp all the time and it resists mold, fungal and bacterial growth.
 

Celine2019

New Member
Joined
Jan 8, 2019
Messages
17
Location (City and/or State)
Manchester
I like the coco coir best when they are little, but then it gets too messy, which is exactly what you've described. Fine grade orchid bark works best for adults. Its also called "fir bark" if you can find it in bulk at a garden center.

Most wood chips, like beech for example, shouldn't be used because you can't keep it damp without getting mold. Fir bark can be kept damp all the time and it resists mold, fungal and bacterial growth.
Thanks so much! I will try that next x
 

mossgiant95

New Member
Joined
Mar 15, 2020
Messages
4
Location (City and/or State)
Washington
To expound on Fir Bark..
I have tried it a few times for my Horsfield but I find it difficult to keep from getting dusty. It also doesn't provide much in the way of thermoregulation. However, it is less dusty and better for your tort than pure Coco fiber/husk so if your choices are limited I would vote for the bark. If buying from a garden center I would wash it thoroughly to clean the bulk of dust and splinters. ZooMed Reptibark is exceptionally clean and absorbs water pretty well, albeit spendy if they're in a big table like my guy.
I switched to a DIY soil mix for the last year and my tort's lung function has improved since. Took him to the vet about a year ago while on fir bark (Coco about three months prior to that, switched away due to same vet's recommendation) and she did a float test in about 8 inches of water-- Nigel did not float at all, slightly bobbing before falling. Seemed a bit odd but apparently they should be able to float because their lungs are towards the top of the shell? Fast forward to two weeks ago after a year of Soil/sand substrate and he did not sink nearly as quickly and doesnt clear his nostrils nearly as much as he used to. Not to mention he digs more forms and walks much more upright on soil!
Thanks for reading this wall of text, hope it's some helpful info!
 
Last edited:

Celine2019

New Member
Joined
Jan 8, 2019
Messages
17
Location (City and/or State)
Manchester
To expound on Fir Bark..
I have tried it a few times for my Horsfield but I find it difficult to keep from getting dusty. It also doesn't provide much in the way of thermoregulation. However, it is less dusty and better for your tort than pure Coco fiber/husk so if your choices are limited I would vote for the bark. If buying from a garden center I would wash it thoroughly to clean the bulk of dust and splinters. ZooMed Reptibark is exceptionally clean and absorbs water pretty well, albeit spendy if they're in a big table like my guy.
I switched to a DIY soil mix for the last year and my tort's lung function has improved since. Took him to the vet about a year ago while on fir bark (Coco about three months prior to that, switched away due to same vet's recommendation) and she did a float test in about 8 inches of water-- Nigel did not float at all, slightly bobbing before falling. Seemed a bit odd but apparently they should be able to float because their lungs are towards the top of the shell? Fast forward to two weeks ago after a year of Soil/sand substrate and he did not sink nearly as quickly and doesnt clear his nostrils nearly as much as he used to. Not to mention he digs more forms and walks much more upright on soil!
Thanks for reading this wall of text, hope it's some helpful info!
Thanks so much! Her current set up just isn’t good enough for her at the moment. Going to order some zoo med reptibark now :)
Will let you know how it goes! X
 

Tom

The Dog Trainer
10 Year Member!
Platinum Tortoise Club
Joined
Jan 9, 2010
Messages
48,424
Location (City and/or State)
Southern California
To expound on Fir Bark..
I have tried it a few times for my Horsfield but I find it difficult to keep from getting dusty. It also doesn't provide much in the way of thermoregulation. However, it is less dusty and better for your tort than pure Coco fiber/husk so if your choices are limited I would vote for the bark. If buying from a garden center I would wash it thoroughly to clean the bulk of dust and splinters. ZooMed Reptibark is exceptionally clean and absorbs water pretty well, albeit spendy if they're in a big table like my guy.
I switched to a DIY soil mix for the last year and my tort's lung function has improved since. Took him to the vet about a year ago while on fir bark (Coco about three months prior to that, switched away due to same vet's recommendation) and she did a float test in about 8 inches of water-- Nigel did not float at all, slightly bobbing before falling. Seemed a bit odd but apparently they should be able to float because their lungs are towards the top of the shell? Fast forward to two weeks ago after a year of Soil/sand substrate and he did not sink nearly as quickly and doesnt clear his nostrils nearly as much as he used to. Not to mention he digs more forms and walks much more upright on soil!
Thanks for reading this wall of text, hope it's some helpful info!
Orchid bark and any other substrate needs to be kept a little damp. This keeps the dust down, but also serves to add some moderate humidity into our overly dry indoor enclosures. Dust is a problem with any dry substrate. Dry substrate is a problem for all tortoises.

The float test is to check for pneumonia. If they have fluid in a lung, they will float lopsided, in species that can float. Easy, non-invasive way to eliminate this possibility and get a correct diagnosis.

Bought in a bag soil from the store should not be used as a tortoise substrate. There is no way to know what composted material it is made of, and it could be something toxic. There are also almost always additives too, like perlite, which is deadly if ingested. You said your soil is DIY, so if you are composting it and making it yourself at home with known ingredients, then it is probably safe, but still too messy for my liking, and your soil still need to be kept damp too.
 

mossgiant95

New Member
Joined
Mar 15, 2020
Messages
4
Location (City and/or State)
Washington
Orchid bark and any other substrate needs to be kept a little damp. This keeps the dust down, but also serves to add some moderate humidity into our overly dry indoor enclosures. Dust is a problem with any dry substrate. Dry substrate is a problem for all tortoises.

The float test is to check for pneumonia. If they have fluid in a lung, they will float lopsided, in species that can float. Easy, non-invasive way to eliminate this possibility and get a correct diagnosis.

Bought in a bag soil from the store should not be used as a tortoise substrate. There is no way to know what composted material it is made of, and it could be something toxic. There are also almost always additives too, like perlite, which is deadly if ingested. You said your soil is DIY, so if you are composting it and making it yourself at home with known ingredients, then it is probably safe, but still too messy for my liking, and your soil still need to be kept damp too.
Tom, thank you for the reply! I have had my Russian Tort Nigel for 3 years but am otherwise new to reptile keeping so I appreciate the insight and reference.
I'm in full agreement on store-bought potting soil or the majority of substrate ingredients you find in bags at the garden center. If it's cheap, there is a reason and you get what you pay for. Sounds like we're on the same page. Luckily I have a professional background in horticulture so am familiar with the harmful source ingredients, why not to use them and what you'll find them in! I'll post a thread on my substrate soon rather than hijack OP's.. would love to hear some others' mixes and vet reports.
 

Tom

The Dog Trainer
10 Year Member!
Platinum Tortoise Club
Joined
Jan 9, 2010
Messages
48,424
Location (City and/or State)
Southern California
Tom, thank you for the reply! I have had my Russian Tort Nigel for 3 years but am otherwise new to reptile keeping so I appreciate the insight and reference.
I'm in full agreement on store-bought potting soil or the majority of substrate ingredients you find in bags at the garden center. If it's cheap, there is a reason and you get what you pay for. Sounds like we're on the same page. Luckily I have a professional background in horticulture so am familiar with the harmful source ingredients, why not to use them and what you'll find them in! I'll post a thread on my substrate soon rather than hijack OP's.. would love to hear some others' mixes and vet reports.
I once bought some soil to fill in one of my big 4x8' planter boxes. I put it down mixed it in, and didn't think anything of it. Weeks later, once the plants got going, I took a bunch of hatchling Sulcatas out there for a little sun, grazing and exercise. Before I even walked away, one of the little tortoises started trying to eat something in the soil. I pulled it out of its mouth and upon closer inspection, it was a semi-composted jacaranda leaf. I don't have a jacaranda tree anywhere near here. I removed all the tortoises immediately and went back and looked more closely. There was a lot more of it mixed in to that soil. Totally fine for growing plants in an outdoor planter box. Not fine at all for tortoises to be living on and eating. Jacaranda is toxic to animals. That woke me up. All this soil we buy is just our own composted yard waste. When I bought my ranch it had around 30 oleander bushes on it. I ripped them all out and over time filled my green waste bin with it week after week for several months. Then I walk through home depot and there is an entire giant aisle dedicated to toxic yard chemicals that people put all over their lawns. Then these lawns are mowed and the clipping go into the yard waste bin and make their way into the giant compost piles of the soil makers. Pesticides, herbicides, fungicides, etc...

I keep trying to explain this to people, but the old care sheets, and a lot of current ones too, tell people to use soil as a substrate. I really don't think its a good idea, unless people are making their own soil with their own known safe ingredients.

I'm self taught on all things horticulture, so there are large gaps in what I know. PLEASE share your horticultural knowledge with us here. All tortoises keepers need to be amateur farmers in my opinion, so your help will be much welcomed and appreciated. Please feel free to chime in or start your own threads. The more we all learn about growing our own food the better. :)
 

Warren

Active Member
Joined
Jan 24, 2019
Messages
91
Location (City and/or State)
Balto. MD
I like the coco coir best when they are little, but then it gets too messy, which is exactly what you've described. Fine grade orchid bark works best for adults. Its also called "fir bark" if you can find it in bulk at a garden center.

Most wood chips, like beech for example, shouldn't be used because you can't keep it damp without getting mold. Fir bark can be kept damp all the time and it resists mold, fungal and bacterial growth.
Hello Tom, have a question to ask about a post I read that you posted awhile ago about some munch from Lowe's. I wanted to put down some new munch around flowers in my tortoises roaming area. Is this what you where talking about, your post was old and didn't show the picture you posted. It said Cypress and contains natural forests products. Would appreciate your advice. Just under $4.00 a bag
 

Attachments

Tom

The Dog Trainer
10 Year Member!
Platinum Tortoise Club
Joined
Jan 9, 2010
Messages
48,424
Location (City and/or State)
Southern California
Hello Tom, have a question to ask about a post I read that you posted awhile ago about some munch from Lowe's. I wanted to put down some new munch around flowers in my tortoises roaming area. Is this what you where talking about, your post was old and didn't show the picture you posted. It said Cypress and contains natural forests products. Would appreciate your advice. Just under $4.00 a bag
Without knowing what is in it, it is a risk. Since its going into an outdoor area, I would water it heavily a few times, look it over carefully, and probably take the risk. I wouldn't use it indoors, but I'd probably try it outdoors if it looked okay.
 

Warren

Active Member
Joined
Jan 24, 2019
Messages
91
Location (City and/or State)
Balto. MD
I'll buy a bag and see what it's made of, and I'll let you know. Thank you
 

mossgiant95

New Member
Joined
Mar 15, 2020
Messages
4
Location (City and/or State)
Washington
I once bought some soil to fill in one of my big 4x8' planter boxes. I put it down mixed it in, and didn't think anything of it. Weeks later, once the plants got going, I took a bunch of hatchling Sulcatas out there for a little sun, grazing and exercise. Before I even walked away, one of the little tortoises started trying to eat something in the soil. I pulled it out of its mouth and upon closer inspection, it was a semi-composted jacaranda leaf. I don't have a jacaranda tree anywhere near here. I removed all the tortoises immediately and went back and looked more closely. There was a lot more of it mixed in to that soil. Totally fine for growing plants in an outdoor planter box. Not fine at all for tortoises to be living on and eating. Jacaranda is toxic to animals. That woke me up. All this soil we buy is just our own composted yard waste. When I bought my ranch it had around 30 oleander bushes on it. I ripped them all out and over time filled my green waste bin with it week after week for several months. Then I walk through home depot and there is an entire giant aisle dedicated to toxic yard chemicals that people put all over their lawns. Then these lawns are mowed and the clipping go into the yard waste bin and make their way into the giant compost piles of the soil makers. Pesticides, herbicides, fungicides, etc...

I keep trying to explain this to people, but the old care sheets, and a lot of current ones too, tell people to use soil as a substrate. I really don't think its a good idea, unless people are making their own soil with their own known safe ingredients.

I'm self taught on all things horticulture, so there are large gaps in what I know. PLEASE share your horticultural knowledge with us here. All tortoises keepers need to be amateur farmers in my opinion, so your help will be much welcomed and appreciated. Please feel free to chime in or start your own threads. The more we all learn about growing our own food the better. :)
Wow, that is quite an eye opening experience! I had a similar one last week when mixing a new batch of soil. I picked up 10 gallons of Yard Compost from one of my local landscape suppliers, OMRI certified for Organic food production (source material free of regular pesticide application and no fertilizers added to the compost). The pile was still steaming which is not immediately a bad thing but as soon as I got it home it just reeked of Cedar and Juniper oils and was still actively generating heat. Obviously not what we want to use, so for less than $10 it was an easy decision to toss it outside on the beds.

You're right on point though with most bagged products. It's essentially garbage turned into something usable for landscaping, which is great for sustainability in your flower beds but not for our torts! Despite my limited reptile knowledge I am also disheartened seeing the recommendations in our community regarding potting soils. It seems that as long as it says Organic on the bag people don't look much further. Most of the time they are barely good enough for growing food in, IMO.
The compost I used prior (Cedar Grove, a big brand in Washington state that is actually good quality for the price) was full of plastic shards, shreds and even glass. Not to mention the source material is also yard waste that has variable levels of pesticides and herbicides as you said. Even if you're buying something you feel very confident in, absolutely sift it beforehand with some hardware cloth screen. At the very least you will have a chance to see all the material and judge for yourself. Do this each time you buy the same products as well, because I only found so much contamination in a recent batch that I was about to use. Needless to say it was returned and I saved myself quite a headache by sifting, and I'm kicking myself for even using it in the first place.
On my new mix I have switched over to this as a carbon and beneficial microbial source: https://generalhydroponics.com/ancient-forest
I've used this product in gardening applications before and found it at a hydroponics store near me. It looks great, smells great and adds a great softness to the mix that helps retain burrows and regulate moisture. Using at about 10% of total volume. Rest of the mix is Peat, Coco Coir, Sand, a bit of Fir Bark for aeration, and a small amount of Biochar.
These Hydroponic/Indoor Garden shops will typically have superior compost products available than big box stores and are worth visiting. Still watch out for all the normal stuff (manures, guanos, cedar, landscape materials, added fertilizer or anything you don't recognize) but it's generally processed better for specialty gardening. You don't absolutely need this if you are not growing any plants in there and are just going for physical composition, however I am converting Nigel's enclosure to a bioactive system so I need humus and aerobic microbes to kickstart the carbon and nitrogen cycle. I'll post about it in more detail when finished!
Thanks for reading my Ted talk, lol. Haven't done any forum posting in many years so I'll try to keep things short and sweet!
 
Top