The Tortoise Chef

RosemaryDW

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Vacation feeding--last year vs. this year.

I'm leaving for a conference tomorrow and my husband is working intense hours at his job. Plus it's hot here this week. Food is going to left out in the morning and hopefully doesn't melt before lunch.

Last year, as a brand new owner, this is the kind of thing I would prepare in advance of my departure. Carefully curated containers of sturdy greens that would get placed out each day in a small water saucer to keep them from wilting. Plus a flower, because I felt guilty about leaving her.

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This year:

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Head of frisee: one minute at the grocery store, one dollar to buy, one handful dumped out per day. Frisee is one of my favorite foods for hot weather; stays the crunchiest. Feeding an outdoor tortoise seems the reverse of an indoor tortoise; she gets more spring mix in summer than any other time of the year.

Next year I imagine I'll just soak her and let her fend for herself. :)
 

sheldon64

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I Juz got my tortoise Sheldon a couple of weeks ago sinse then I've had him on a steady diet of store bought pellets dandelions frozen veggies (green beans, peas , carrots , and corn) and Juz recently added collied greens I want to add more to his diet but I'm scared to add something in his diet that will hurt him what are some safe veggies I can get from say Kroger or Walmart to add to his food that will be safe
 

RosemaryDW

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It looks like your Sheldon is a Russian tortoise? That frozen veggie mix isn't good for him. While he can have the occasional bit of peas or carrots (very small!) those vegetables are overall too high and sugar and protein than his system can digest.

Have you taken a look at our Russian care sheet? Down near the bottom are some tips for feeding and it includes some grocery store foods. http://www.tortoiseforum.org/threads/russian-tortoise-care-sheet.80698/

Other owners will include plants in the chicory family to this list. Chicories are "fancy" looking lettuces and include "regular" chicory, frisee, endive, radicchio, escarole--these are all related to dandelions. Look for them at the far end of the lettuces. You might see something labeled dandelions there as well. They won't look like the regular dandelions you find in your yard but they are related and good food. A bag of "Spring Mix" is an easy option to buy and will often contain several or all of these lettuces, just check the label to see that several of them are included.

There is another care sheet for a different type of tortoise, Sulcata, but the list of grocery store foods at the bottom of that sheet contain good options for Russian tortoises as well: http://www.tortoiseforum.org/threads/sulcata-diet-sheet.64290/

You won't find all of these at Kroger but you will find some; mix things up as much as you can.
 

RosemaryDW

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Tried some pennywort this week, also known as dollarweed in the south, where I understand it grows like a weed! Once again purchased at the farmers market.

She wasn't a big fan last year and things didn't change this year. She'll eat a few leaves, then look for something else. I don't doubt she'd eat more of it if I cut out other things and since it's a local weed for many, folks might want to try it out. It's an edible weed so if your tortoise won't eat it, throw the leftovers into your salad! I put mine into a smoothie.

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Otherwise it was mostly daikon radish leaves and squash leaves this week, some weeds.
 

Pearly

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Back to the farmers market!

I was at the market by myself today. My husband is a patient man but there is only so much time he is willing to stand in the sun while I meander the stalls.

I usually pick up a few squash or melon leaves: today was chayote squash. If you look closely, you can see these vines from one of our largest Hmong vendors are not at all cheap at $6/pound. They have just about everything at this stand, all terrifically clean and organic. Everything has easy to read signage and the staff spend a good amount of time describing the uses of all the vegetables to customers. All of this is reflected in the prices. Unlike some vendors, they sell most green vegetables loose, which is why I shop here. I only needed a couple of squash stems, which cost me 25 cents. When I told the cashier it was for my tortoise, he tells me his mom has desert tortoises and would they like this? "YES!" I presume he can get his at cost. ;)

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If I was buying in quantity, I'd pop down to another large vendor that is very nice but not organic nor as well staffed. Just about everything they sell is in $2 bundles. Typically the bundles hold a very large handful of whatever plant it is, so the weight varies. They are selling bundles of bitter melon stems that I estimated at least a pound plus--I've posted a picture of one bundle by itself in a produce bin. In summer their zucchini bundles are huge, far too big for me to even consider.

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If I was looking for a bunch of dandelion (chicory) this is where I'd shop. This bundle is huge, making it perhaps half as expensive as other vendors.

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I purchased a bundle of methi (fenugreek) here because it is often recommended to/by owners in Asia and India and I wanted to see if it would pass muster with a Russian. I got ten ounces for my $2 and I was surprised that Adila ate a few leaves the first time I offered it to her--it's extremely bitter. I'll try her again when she is hungrier. Obviously she won't eat the whole bundle and as I don't make much curry, this was an experiment I undertook for the benefit of forum members! :) They let me take a few daikon (big radish) leaves. Addy will eat regular radish leaves but she much prefers these; they are also easier for me to clean and feed, being so large. (Addy gets whatever I throw down whole, no beautiful salads for her!)

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My tomato "guy" sells some other vegetables, along with squash blossoms. He gave me his last two flowers (they were a bit squashed!) and when I asked if I could have a turnip leaf, pulled out a double handful of tops of all kinds for me to take. I convinced him I needed just the one leaf.

I made my last purchase at a vendor selling cleaned opuntia pads for $2 pound. This is on par with other vendors, but our primary vendor only sells it in two-pound bags, already sliced. I wanted one tiny pad, which they gave me free when I said it was for my tortoise. Honestly, telling people here you have a tortoise makes you an "A" list celebrity.

I was poking around another vendor when I noticed they had a large box of vegetable tops and loose lettuce leaves out front. Customers often ask vendors for tops, for their chickens and compost bins, occasionally for tortoises. This vendor must have decided it was easier to leave things out front than keep pulling things from behind the counter; I've never noticed it before. I see some collards in there, along with chard, beet tops, various lettuces, and carrot tops. I'd rinse anything I took from here but you can't beat free.

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Here we are at home with everything washed. Total cost $2.25 but without the methi experiment, it would have been just the 25 cents. It's not food for an entire week, just some additional variety to the weeds I picked earlier. At this point, my entire food budget for the week is 25 cents unless you factor in the very high cost of living in this neighborhood. Once that number is included, the total cost is approximately one squillion dollars. :rolleyes:

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@RosemaryDW, I hate you!!!!! (Joking!!!!) but seriously, what I would not do to have farmers market like yours around here!!! I adore fresh produce!
 

RosemaryDW

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@RosemaryDW, I hate you!!!!! (Joking!!!!) but seriously, what I would not do to have farmers market like yours around here!!! I adore fresh produce!

I am extremely fortunate, for sure.

Update on the dollar weed; she's eating it if I remove some of the stem, they are too stringy for her to manage. On something with a thicker stem, she can put a foot down on it and bite out a stringy bit; she can't get leverage on these narrow little stems. It's the only stem she hasn't been able to manage, as far as I can remember. Probably not an issue for a larger tortoise?
 

SaraP

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OMG...this thread has been so helpful--thank you!! I've been wondering what folks do in areas where there just isn't enough/the quality is dubious of the weeds they might be able to pick or where outside isn't much of a grazing source for their tortoise. All of these markets and resources are available to me and now my confidence is buoyed a bit more that I'll be able to feed a tortoise off of what's accessible to me here.
 

RosemaryDW

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Another grocery store post!

I needed to pick up something unusual so went to our local Persian grocery store. We have several, but this is the largest. While the focus is obviously on Persian foods, they cater to our Asian and Indian populations as well. They even have a small Russian deli selection! These are similar to Asian grocery stores in that you may not know there is one near you! Do a little Googling and see what you find.

They sell some produce that a single owner might consider.

In the herb section I find methi (fenugreek), shahi (a type of cress) for a buck for what I think is eight ounces or a bit more. My tortoise loves chives as well. They are a "do not feed" on the tortoise table but I don't agree with their logic on this one.

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They've got cactus as well, at $2.49 for a pound of peeled and cut strips. A pound wouldn't keep fresh long enough for my tortoise to eat it but I know many of our owners want or would like to feed it so here it is as an option.

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Purslane is also here, super cheap. It's a LOT of purslane so not the best purchase for me but keeps pretty well in the fridge, worth a try for larger tortoises or a few small ones.

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Herb and vegetable mixtures are used in numerous Iranian dishes and there are dried herbs here by the bagful. Many contain leek which again is a Tortoise Table no no. But if you are okay with that and want to add some variety to a winter diet, possibly of interest.

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I pull up to the spices section, it's my favorite. Do you want to try your hand at growing something but don't have a good nursery nearby? Or perhaps you've got a ton of space and can use a LOT of seeds? Pull out $5 and give it a go. Not all of these seeds will grow, some have been heat treated. But many will.

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If you've been wanting to add something dry to a winter diet, they've got several dried flower heads for you: hibiscus, rose, and chamomile. Mexican markets usually have these dried flowers as well. You see some poppy seeds snuck in there, another "do not feed but Russians eat of a little of in the wild and I love the flowers; we'll see if anything grows this winter when I start them.

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I finally hit up the freezer section. *I'm* there for frozen and peeled fava beans (cheap!) but I always took a look at all the different vegetables. They have okra for what seems like a good price to me. (Disclaimer: I live in a very high cost of living area so what seem like good prices to me may look ridiculous to you. I couldn't tell you what okra goes for in a "regular" market here as we rarely shop there. It is just crazy expensive!)

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There are tons of interesting frozen vegetables here (but never any grape leaves, which seems odd to me). Today I take a picture of something that "looks" like tortoise food and indeed, when I look it up later, it's in the mallow family. It's a plant with sturdy leaves, which is what first caught my eye. When I read other threads here about freezing foods for later use, the thicker leaved ones (mulberry, grape) are often mentioned as good candidates for freezing. If you live somewhere with very limited winter options, these seem worth a try. At 88 cents, why not?

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RosemaryDW

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I call this week's selection "Take it or Leave it."

I'm busy and I'm tired from being busy so she mostly getting what's in the fridge: the saddest leaf of kale; a sugar snap pea and a slice of squash; radish leaves, purslane, and squash leaves are holdovers from last week. I found a chicory in the yard and threw that in. There is some cilantro in there; she is going to eat it one of these days, darnit!

I don't think it matters much, she's perfectly happy grazing in the yard.

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RosemaryDW

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There's been something at the farmers' market I've had my eye on, which is sweet potato leaves. Sweet potato leaves are listed as a do-not-feed on the Tortoise Table due to a low calcium to phosphorous ratio but several experienced members feed it and my tortoise gets enough variety for me not to worry about it.

IMG_3877.JPG I was careful picking these out, as they are marked as yam leaves. Sweet potato and yam leaves are frequently labeled as each other, as they look and are used in similar ways; yam leaves are not a recommended food so I want to be sure I've got the right thing. The leaves on these plants don't look the same but it's the stem that sets them apart for me. You can see the stalks on these sweet potatoes are pretty sturdy; the plants mound low on the ground, like pumpkins or squash. Yam leaves have very thin stems with curly tendrils--they are climbing plants, like peas or beans.

I spent $2 on an organic bundle that weighed about a pound and a half. Too much for one little tortoise. I might stir fry the others or I might just chalk this up to forum research. :) Addy spent a very looooong fifteen minutes eating every bit of stem on the first piece I gave her: A+ on the taste scale.

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She also got an inch or two of tops I chopped off some green garlic shoots I bought for the humans. (Green garlic looks similar to green onions and is delicious.) Garlic shoots are another Tortoise Table do-not-feed, for reasons I find overly conservative. It's from a plant family different than I usually feed (Amaryllidaceae) and I like to mix things up. As always, no need to feed anything you're not personally comfortable with. Addy has never turned them down.

The usual radish stems that had broken off from their bundles at the market.

Some frisee that's just not getting eaten by the humans.

She continues to be focused on the yarrow growing outside and to some extent, the limited primrose that's surviving the heat. She's also on the lookout for blossoms that fall off the Tacoma stans that grow in our yard. Don't worry about the shape of those flowers, they are *not* trumpet vine flowers.

Total cost: $2 for the bundle of yam leaves; normally I'd just ask them if I could pay for some broken off leaves in the basket but I wanted owners to get a good look.

The usual caveats to my feeding apply: very high cost of living area in a mild climate; easy access to year-round foods, both wild and purchased from a great variety of markets.
 
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RosemaryDW

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Update on those sweet potato leaves, the long fiber content in them is great. Addy slowly worked her way through every bit of every stem. The leaves didn't last that long for me but the stems kept well for about a week and a half. Ten out of ten, I'd purchase again.
 

RosemaryDW

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Summer feeding in a fairly dry climate:

I've been "saving" bindweed for midsummer feeding; it's a weed that keeps growing anywhere there is a tiny bit of moisture and it grows everywhere. It's called "bind" weed because it climbs up and over everything: the ground, other weeds, walls and fences. Here's how you might find it outdoors.

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Bindweed is in the convolvulaceae plant family. Safe in moderation, per the Tortoise Table, and very popular with our Russian. The flowers come in different colors, white, pink, purple, but they all have leaves that look a bit like arrowheads. Very easy to harvest, just grab a handful and pull. Where I find it, it's usually climbing up grass so I have to separate that out at home. It keeps well in the fridge but not so well outside; I put it out in the morning and hope for the best.

This week I tested a suggestion we often give new owners: "Ask your neighbors if they have any grape leaves to share." We actually have a small grape vine but I wanted to give it a shot. I'm in California so several of my neighbors have grapevines but I'm terribly shy. Talking to strangers is nerve wracking but no one said tortoise owning was easy!

I screwed up my courage and asked the family with the biggest vine if they used pesticides and if I could have some leaves. "Help yourself! This vine is more than we can handle, take all you want." Wow, that was easy.

So this week it's mostly grape leaves and bindweeds. I've also got some turnip greens from a bunch of "human" food. I add in the end of a cucumber and a couple of short zucchini stems. I found some purslane growing when I was looking for bindweed and tossed that in as well.

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RosemaryDW

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I attempted to feed sesame leaves and dropwort this week, read all about it in my post on visiting a Korean market: http://www.tortoiseforum.org/threads/a-trip-to-a-korean-market-picture-heavy.159825/

I was distracted by a work emergency during this trip and neglected to buy anything I knew she'd it eat for sure. Whoops! I was still working on the emergency three days later and ended up sending my husband to the farmers market to "find some leaves." He brought home a pound of squash leaves, several baby bok choy, and an entire head of frisee! Not sure what we'll do with all of it but he did a great job of choosing; all of these items will stand up to our current heat wave. What a guy!

I walked off some of my work angst today and found some bindweed. Volunteer sunflowers are still growing at our community garden, so I picked one leaf. I think it's big enough?

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My husband spent $5 on top of my $1.30. A pricey week for us, although I suppose I'll eat about $3 of it.

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Kapidolo Farms

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A penny for size reference I have here some grated butternut squash/orange sweet potato and purple sweet potato at the top, in the middle is oyster mushroom finely chopped with mulberry leaf, to the bottom are mini portabella mushrooms with some opuntia goo. These are all mixed and fed to some three week old Manouria tortoises. They try their best to pick out the oyster mushrooms, but because their eye-mouth coordination is still not well developed they get a mix of things.

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RosemaryDW

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I'm not gonna lie, I shopped at our Persian market today because it sits next to a gas station and I wanted to buy a PowerBall ticket.

She ended up with methi (fenugreek) and Italian dandelions (chicory). There is a little bok choy left from last week.

It's way too much chicory for one week; half will go into some pasta or soup.

I did not win the PowerBall. :(
 

Kapidolo Farms

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Before and after of pellets and cubes. I'm glad a stumbled onto these cubes. They have a better acceptance than the alfalfa/timothy cubes.

Now these can be left to dry and mixed in or mixed in right now while moist. Both ways work well and create more variety at least in terms of presentation.

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RosemaryDW

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It's late August now and Addy is still growing a bit but truly slowing down on food, just like last fall. She's started excavating a new burrow so we're forcibly placing her in her night box until she gets back in the habit.

I need to remember her fall behavior and not try to tempt her with delicious foods, like squash and cactus. Let's see if I make it! I found her eating dried out grape leaves she'd ignored the day before. I've read about this somewhere, that they shift to dry, leftover plants before hibernation; I never saw her do this last fall.

The usual caveats apply: feeding a single Russian tortoise, housed entirely outdoors in a mild climate. Access to all kinds of food year round but in a very high cost of living area. YMMV.

We tried a new farmers market this week and it was an absolute bust; I wouldn't even have fed the radish leaves from the bunch I purchased.

We went back to the Korean market, H Mart. I don't know it it was because it was a Sunday but the vegetable section was being stocked and shopped like mad. I saw quite a few new things.

I started by buying something I knew she'd like: squash leaves. These looked much better than last time and wow, were some of them huge.

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I also bought some water spinach, which I was pretty sure she'd eat, and she did, quite happily.

They were selling small bundles of something marked simply as mallow. It certainly looked like a mallow so I risked .79 cents. Later I identified it as Malva verticillata, or Chinese mallow. She's simply not a fan of large mallows and wasn't real interested. I think she'll try them if she gets good and warm.

I passed on something known as "fish mint," which tastes, not surprisingly, like fish! No thanks!

Japanese shinto caught my eye on my last pass. I've seen it used fairly often as a garnish and thought I'd try it. When I got home, I found that it was regularly eaten by humans but haw bad effects on ruminants (cows). I just couldn't find enough evidence of it being fed by tortoises and finally decided against it. I let her have a smell of it and she found it very interesting but not enough to take a bite. It is quite fragile anyway and wouldn't have lasted in our heat. Finally, something I won't feed! :p

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Not shown in pictures but I gave her a small piece of fennel. This is a plant somewhat high in sugar, with a licorice taste. She took a couple of bites off and on; clearly interested but could not get past the taste. You and me, tortoise, you and me.

Ultimately about $6.50 for the week, $2 of which was wasted on the Shinto. We'll see about that .79 cents of mallow.

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