Backyard Turtles
Tour Ten
Our New Turtle Pond

     This tour picks up where Tour 9: Our Old Turtle Pond leaves off. The winter of 2007/2008 was not a hard winter and the damaged trees were removed by mid January. As the ground began to thaw the old pond was removed so that construction could begin as soon as the ground thawed in March. And the weather in March was as good as could be hoped for with the ground thawing early and no late snow storms.

     Because replacing the pond was on our minds for several years, it did not take much planning. We knew we were going to build the new pond in the same location confined by the three tree stumps. We would use a rubber liner and the old outflow for draining the pond. The depth would be about the same at 10" to 12". And we knew this pond would be concrete lined with gently sloping sides so that box turtles could simply walk in and out without slipping and sliding. We would also not be slipping and sliding on the rubber liner when we clean the pond. The concrete would be 1" to 2" thick.

     We have hard freezing winters in Pennsylvania which means the ground lifts as it freezes. This is hard on surfaces like sidewalks and driveways. Building an all concrete pond would have been a major construction project requiring steel rebar and thick concrete to prevent cracking. A simple outflow would not be simple at all. With our design, the rubber liner contains the water and cracks in the concrete do not matter.

     As soon as the ground was free of frost we began preparing the site. Our soil is shale which drains well and dries out quickly so it was workable soon after being frost free. We were also lucky to not have many tree roots to remove. Any soil disturbed was screened to remove stones. Some plants which were just beginning to put up new growth had to be transplanted or potted. In little time the shape of our new pond was established.

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     We had good weather and made excellent progress. The measurements for the pond liner were taken one last time. The rubber liner we use comes in a 10' wide roll so we needed a piece 10' by 13'. The liner was purchased and immediately laid out.

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     We had also been stock piling bags of concrete mix so we were ready to place concrete as soon as the liner was in place. For this purpose we purchased concrete mix with aggregate (stones) in it. The two folds were taped with duct tape just before covering them with concrete. The first concrete was placed at the lowest level with no particular pattern intended. We mixed no more than one bag at a time and placed it and then repeated the process.

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     The concrete was placed using a wood float to spread the concrete. No attempt was made to smooth or trowel the surface. We wanted it to be ruff. After the first concrete laid had a day to set, additional concrete was placed around the edges in stages. Concrete will flow down hill when wet and some slight bulging can be seen. As we progressed up the slopes, small indentations were made with a twig from a tree for additional traction. By the end of March most of the concrete was in place.

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     April 1st is significant around our house because this is the day we often fill our turtle pond and move our water turtles outside. This April 1st one of our water turtles moved outside all by herself. It was Emily our Florida red-bellied turtle. We told you this story before in Tour 3: Keeping Records on Your Turtles. If you have not read this tour, read it before you continue.

     The rain on the new concrete was no problem since it was already set. In a few days there was more rain which is to be expected in April. The pond was beginning to look like a pond. Work resumed by filling the pond with more water to check the elevation of the top of the pond.

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     When removing the old pond, we were surprised at how well the concrete adhered to the rubber liner after many years of service. It is not necessary for the concrete to adhere to the rubber liner for our design to work, but it could be helpful. So the new rubber liner was sponged clean and allowed to dry before placing concrete on it. 

     Sand mix (topping mix) was used to complete the rim of the pond which was made smooth. This is where the turtles will sit and drag their plastrons across as they exit and enter the pond. On her own our dog continued our family tradition; she walked through the concrete. You can read about this tradition in Tour 12: Many Uses for Concrete on the Raising Baby Turtles page. No harm was done so we left her footprints in the concrete. Finally the rim was extended on the side nearest our house.

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     After all the concrete work was done, the only items that remained were to trim off excess rubber liner and back fill with soil as needed. Some plants were planted right up against the concrete for a naturalistic look. The board blocking the outflow was also trimmed flush with the top of the concrete abutments it rests against.

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     This project took less than four weeks to complete which is a remarkably short time given that it was done during March and April. We used 1400 pounds of ready mix concrete. This may sound like a lot, but keep in mind that we made several trips to bring it home and it was never mixed more than one bag at a time. For the first season of use the ph of the water was checked often and adjusted as necessary while the concrete seasoned.

     You may be wandering why we did not build a larger deeper pond. First it is not necessary for our turtles since our water turtles will not hibernate in it. We also find that our turtles are more docile when they can not avoid us completely. They can swim out of reach but often just sit by the pond as we step over them. We think we have a better and closer relationship with our turtles because of the smaller pond size. If need be we can always step into the water to catch a turtle or get a net. 

     As soon as the new pond was completed, we immediately moved to building the bog we had planned to build before it was necessary to build the new pond. We wanted to do as much construction as we could before the turtles were under foot. The bog has already been featured in Tour 7: Building a Bog Garden for Turtles. The proximity of the two is important. When the dirty water from the pond is released for cleaning, it flows into the bog flooding the bog and it's surroundings just like a natural bog may be flooded. Therefore, the water is used twice and the dirt and turtle poop are recycled biologically in the bog.

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     The bed of pine needles between the pond and bog is where our box turtles hibernate.

     You may be wandering how our turtles accepted all the habitat change that occurred while they were hibernating - trees and old pond gone and new pond and bog built. Keep in mind that these are domesticated turtles and that wild habitats can change just as much from one year to the next. Our turtles took it all in stride and seemed to enjoy exploring the changes to their habitat.

     For the new pond we purchased one water hyacinth plant and one floating lettuce plant knowing that both would multiply rapidly if not eaten by the turtles. They did multiply rapidly but the water hyacinths were continually eaten down to stumps. So to keep some of them thriving, we rotated them between the pond and the bog. We expected the water turtles to help themselves to the plants in the bog, but they preferred to eat whatever was provided in the pond.

     The following pictures are from 2008, the first season of the new pond:

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     We continue with pictures from 2009. It is easy to see in these pictures that we have a happy group of turtles in what may seem like a small turtle pond. Also take note that Emily, the biggest turtle in the group, is never alone. She is very well liked and has never appeared to tire of her companions.

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     Very domesticated turtles like these can be smart alecks at times. When we place food like canned dog or cat food on a paper plate by the edge of the water, we weigh the edges down with two of our concrete stones shown in pic 37 above. Emily will grab the plate as soon as I turn my back and drag it into the water. If she doesn't, Ribbit will. So now I have to soak the plate in the pond first and then place the food on top of it. This why it tears easily and can not be dragged into the water. It is just part of the fun we enjoy by having close relationships with our turtles. We think the smaller and shallower pond helps in developing these close relationships.

     The one thing we would do differently if we were building this pond now would be to make the concrete rim of the pond wider. When rain fills the pond to overflowing, there is not much area to walk around. We did expand the rim on the side closest to our house as an after though during construction. We could expand it now, but the new concrete would not be on top of the rubber liner which serves as reinforcement and blocks weeds. A wider rim would also catch more rain water. We prefer to walk on the hard surface so as not to accidentally step on a turtle (maybe even an unexpected baby turtle) who might be buried next to the pond's edge.

     It was early March, 2010 when we originally concluded this tour. It was just two years after we built this pond and the bog. But March, 2010 our yard is covered with snow. The pond and bog were not even visible. And the few turtles in the house like Emily were restless. We were all ready for warmer weather.

     August, 2010: Our outflow works very well, but the black pond liner is unattractive to look at. It is on the opposite side of the pond from our house which means we look at it all the time. The turtles like to sit on the outflow because the water is deeper there so the turtles can plunge in rather than have to run into the water when disturbed. It was time to experiment.

     We had a heavy piece of canvas that is the color of the pond concrete. A piece was cut to lay over the pond liner and flattened pieces of copper tubing were attached to it to give it some weight. It worked very well but was cut wrong and did not hide all the rubber liner so a new piece of canvas was cut. This time we did the cutting when the pond was emptied for cleaning so we could mark, cut, and fit the piece of canvas while being inside the pond. We purposely did not take pictures until the canvas had a chance to soil giving it a more natural look. Take a look at the results.

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     We are very pleased with the results and the turtles seem to be pleased too. The part hanging in the water is weighted. If it is not weighted, the turtles will congregate under it. The part in the water also turns green with algae which blends in with the discolored concrete. It is cleaned with a brush and water when the pond is cleaned. The copper tubing weights were glued on the underside with hot melt glue. There are also weights on the part out of the water to keep it from blowing into the water.

     Being canvas it will not last forever, but we expect to get a few seasons use out of it. When it is time to replace it, we can use the old one as a pattern to cut the new one. We will find a piece of polyester to replace it with.

     We hope you have enjoyed this Backyard Turtles tour, find it informative, and are maybe inspired to build your own inexpensive turtle pond.

 Revised 8/22/2010

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