Substrate

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Quasi
Posts: 13
Joined: 30 Mar 2021, 08:15

Substrate

Post by Quasi » 14 Jan 2022, 10:57

Good morning,
I would like some advice about substrates please.
I have a Greek Mediterranean spur thighed tortoise, 25 yrs weighing approx 550g. He is currently in hibernation but I am thinking about changing the substrate of his indoor tortoise table when he wakes up.

For winter months he has an indoor tortoise table measuring 6 foot by 3 foot. I have always used top soil by itself or sometimes mixed with sand. However, his table is in an upstairs bedroom as this is the only practical place. I always sieve the sterilised soil as occasionally I have found odd bits of plastic or glass in the bags in the past. However, lugging buckets of soil up flights of stairs is not my idea of fun and I have also found the soil to be pretty dusty despite regular misting/ watering.
I was wondering about your views on using coir mixed with the soil, maybe 50% / 50%?. I am concerned that the coir might a fire risk or that it's simply not advisable although I have read elsewhere other tortoise keeper use it. I do want the best possible environment for my tortoise so if it's not suitable, then I will resign myself to staying with 100% top spoil or soil/sand and building up those muscles!

Secondly, how deep should his substrate be in his tortoise table? Over the years, my tortoise has never shown any desire to dig or burrow, whether in his table, outdoor enclosure or in the garden (under strict supervision of course) although he's often found hiding under plants or bushes etc. Sometimes I have wondered if he doesn't burrow in his indoor table it's because maybe the substrate isn't deep enough but this wouldn't apply in his outdoor enclosure or in the garden?

I would be very grateful for your advice on these matters.
Many thanks

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Nina
Posts: 1694
Joined: 16 Mar 2017, 11:22

Re: Substrate

Post by Nina » 14 Jan 2022, 11:45

Hi Quasi and thanks for your interesting question!

We always recommend a mixture of topsoil and playsand (many people have it 50/50, but my tortoises seem to prefer about 70% topsoil to 30% playsand). I pour some water on mine every three or four days and mix it in well, so that the end result is just the teeny tiniest bit damp -- and not at all wet (I found that spraying every day or two didn't work so well because it just dried out so quickly under the lights).

My tortoise table is 7' x 2' and is upstairs too, so I really sympathise with the problem of carrying heavy bags of substrate upstairs. I have Horsfields, who are manic diggers and burrowers, so I have my depth about five or six inches, and they often dig into it. How deep is the substrate in your table? If your tortoise has never shown any interest in digging -- indoors or outdoors -- in 25 years, then you could probably get away with making it less deep. Would a couple of inches in depth be an improvement for you? If so then I would try it. Also, I now use coir (I get those compressed blocks that you soak and they expand enormously), and they now make up about 10% - 15% of my substrate. I do know people who use a much higher percentage, but I agree that it does present a fire risk if it is dry. Also it tends to get very dusty, but if the soil is kept ever so slightly damp then fire and dust problems would be lessened.

You are really good to sieve the soil! It's obviously the best policy, but I'm ashamed to say that I don't -- even though I have occasionally found bits of plastic or glass in the topsoil (some brands are worse than others). I just pick them out as I see them -- which I know isn't ideal. My view is that outdoors a tortoise would encounter bits of glass, etc. on the ground too, but of course indoors they are confined to a smaller space and so getting rid of any bits and pieces that shouldn't be there is more important.

I do try to spot clean every day, so that poo and wee are removed regularly, which means that I don't have to change the substrate quite so frequently but, like you, I do find it a great chore because of all the humping up and down stairs. I tend to pre mix my substrate in buckets downstairs and carry those up, rather than trying to carry big bags of topsoil, as they are so heavy (and getting heavier each year!).

I'm sure other people will have different ideas, and hopefully will come on the forum with some good tips and advice.

Nina

Quasi
Posts: 13
Joined: 30 Mar 2021, 08:15

Re: Substrate

Post by Quasi » 14 Jan 2022, 16:40

Hello Nina,
Thank you for your very prompt reply which is very helpful. I think now I am resigned to sticking to top soil with some sand although I will try it mixed with a small percentage of coir. I too decan the substrate into buckets to take upstairs as I don't think I could manage a 25 litre bag! Depthwise, it is usually about 2 inches so I will try increasing it.

Thanks once agin for your advice. I love this forum as it's so helpful and informative.

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Nina
Posts: 1694
Joined: 16 Mar 2017, 11:22

Re: Substrate

Post by Nina » 14 Jan 2022, 19:22

Good luck with it all, Quasi! When I'm lugging my buckets of soil upstairs I'll think of you doing the same thing!

I'm not sure you need to increase the depth of the substrate everywhere, as if he wanted to dig you would probably have seen him attempting to dig in it at some point, but why not start by making it deeper at one end of the table, (like make a little hill in one of the corners), and if he burrows into it then you'll know that is something he likes to do, and you can increase the depth elsewhere.

Nina

Quasi
Posts: 13
Joined: 30 Mar 2021, 08:15

Re: Substrate

Post by Quasi » 15 Jan 2022, 09:57

Thanks,Nina. That’s a good idea and I will try experimenting and build him mound and see if he takes any interest.

laurat
Posts: 93
Joined: 19 Mar 2017, 14:46

Re: Substrate

Post by laurat » 28 Apr 2022, 06:58

Hey!

Sorry to interrupt and jump in!

I have a quick question ..

Which is the best top soil and sand to use, what do you use, where do you buy it?

I am putting Vera back on a mixture of top soil and sand ... long story (but he's a little sod)! :lol:

Thanks

Laura

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Nina
Posts: 1694
Joined: 16 Mar 2017, 11:22

Re: Substrate

Post by Nina » 28 Apr 2022, 08:16

Hi Laura,

Re topsoil -- I think most of them have slight problems with imperfections. The bags usually say 'screened' or 'sterilised', but inevitably you will find somes small pieces of plastic or glass that get through the process. I just figure that in the wild there would be bits and pieces and the natural soil isn't completely free of debris, and if I see something I just pick it out and don't worry too much. In the past I've used Homebase and Wickes topsoil and they have been OK (although some people say Wickes is better). At the moment i'm using something called SupaGrow premium blended loam topsoil, and it is very good (I think I bought it because it was on offer at Homebase or a garden centre, can't remember now).

For sand you need children's play sand, and you can buy bags of that at most garden centres, Homebase, etc. You don't want builder's sand as that often does have bits of glass and other debris in it. 'Sharp' sand is even worse, containing more impurities and additives like iron. Children's play sand has been washed and screened so it doesn't contain any impurities or harmful bacteria and is therefore safe for children (and of course tortoises).

Hope that helps,

Nina

laurat
Posts: 93
Joined: 19 Mar 2017, 14:46

Re: Substrate

Post by laurat » 28 Apr 2022, 19:41

That’s smashing Nina, thanks for that info. That’s my bank holiday weekend sorted.

Do you recommend orchid bark at all?

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Nina
Posts: 1694
Joined: 16 Mar 2017, 11:22

Re: Substrate

Post by Nina » 28 Apr 2022, 22:15

I do know of some people who use orchid bark, but personally I'm not in favour of it because:

1. It's not the natural substrate for Mediterranean tortoses. In the wild they tend to live on a very sandy soil, and they can burrow into it, creating little tunnels (Horfields do this all the time, and other species less so). Bark just doesn't lend itself to that.
2. If for some reason it gets very damp (if the water bowl spills out onto it a lot) then there is the possibility that mould could form (although in the warm and dryish climate of a tortoise table this isn't that likely).
3. It is usually made from coniferous trees like pine and fir. Fir is the most common material used, but if it is pine, then if it gets very hot it can give off fumes that are potentially harmful to tortoises (again, not that likely but possible).
4. There is a small risk of it being a fire hazard. If a lamp blows and hot pieces of glass fall down onto the substrate, there is a small possibility that it could catch fire. The risk of fire is greater with something like hay or straw, or aspen, because they will catch fire more quicky, but wood chips like orchid bark have a slight risk too. Lamps don't often explode, but we do know of one fire that destroyed a tortoise table because the person was using a hay or straw-like substrate and a bulb blew. You don't have that risk with a soil/sand based substrate.
5. I also think a soil/sand substrate is easier to spot clean. When a tortoise wees, the wet soil clumps together and is easily removed with an old spoon or something similar. You can do this with the orchid bark, but it's slighty more messy to get it all.

None of the reasons above in itself is damning about orchid bark (although I think the fact that orchid bark is not the natural substrate for tortoises in the wild is a pretty compelling argument against it), but taken together I think it doesn't make a great case for using it.

Nina

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