Backyard Turtles
Tour Two
The Bog Garden Turtle Pen

     The picture to the left was taken when I began writing this tour. Yes I had spring fever just thinking about what you are about to see. And yes I am teasing you to build your anticipation. But the picture shows clearly the small size of this pen and the location. It measures 8 feet long by 4 feet wide by 2 feet high. The location was chosen to be next to the down spout from the rain cutter at the corner of the garage. Now take a look at the amazing seasonal transformation of this bog garden turtle pen.

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     The pen itself is completely over built. It was built with 2 by 2s, 2 by 4s, 4 by 4s, and vinyl covered hardware cloth. It was built for small terrestrial turtles. It proved to be too hard to reach the small turtles so it was removed from use. Interestingly it was moved to build our first bog garden which has been very successful. When we acquired four Florida mud turtles we decided to use what we learned from our first bog garden and to use this pen. A 2" by 6" board was added to nail the rubber liner to dividing the interior space into two areas. One area is a mud bog measuring 4 feet wide and 5 feet long and the remaining area is dry land. The board is inclined at 45 degrees to create an incline.

     A pen was set so that the top of the bottom frame is flush with the sidewalk. The area that is the bog was dug out to create a depth of about 9 inches. A rubber pond liner was nailed to the frame with galvanized roofing nails. A piece of galvanized hardware cloth was placed over the incline so that the turtles can exit the bog without slipping and sliding on the muddy wet rubber liner. Then the liner was filled with rich soil and water creating permanent mud. There is no way to drain the water from the bog.

     The bog was planted with a clump of yellow flag, a clump of sedge, and many arrowhead plants. We had enough plants to get started. They grew rapidly and filled the space as you can see. The arrowheads get the ideal amount of sun and shade and completely over grow this small area. They are also the main summer diet of Emily, our Florida red-bellied turtle. She will eat almost every arrowhead leaf grown in this bog plus those grown in other containers. While the yellow flag and sedge leaves last the whole summer, the arrowhead leaves yellow and die. They are replaced constantly throughout the growing season. Arrowhead leaves are picked for Emily several times a week and placed in her turtle pond.

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     The main source of water for the bog is rain water. The down spout is tapped to draw off most of the water during light rains and only a portion of the water during heavy rains. This is accomplished by placing a old flower pot under the down spout with a copper tube leading to the bog. The copper tube is cemented to the pot with concrete; it does not need to be completely water tight. As rain water fills the pot, water drains into the bog through the copper tube. White mineral from the roofing shingles is trapped in the pot. During heavy rains when extra water is not needed, most of the water overflows the pot and runs across the driveway as it would if the pot was not there. The flower pot is removed during winter months.

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     This simple arrangement would not be acceptable next to the foundation of the house since we have a basement. We would not want the excess water lying close to the foundation. It works here because there is no basement under the garage. In summer we add water with a garden hose when needed to maintain standing water for the turtles.

     During the planning of this bog garden, we were concerned that it may simply turn into a mass of green algae. Fortunately the water surface is always shaded by the bog plants preventing the growth of algae. Duckweed will not even grow in this bog.

     Because we have turtles in this bog garden, we have become more familiar with the mud than we may have otherwise become. After a season the soil becomes a smooth consistent soft mud the turtles are quit at home in. The turtles can be very hard if not impossible to find in the mud. In fall the surface of the mud many be warm, but it will be much colder underneath. That may explain why bog plants have a shorter growing season than other garden plants.

     In nature bogs and vernal ponds fill with tree leaves in the fall. The leaves provide cover for the many animals and insects that live in these waters. As the waters warm in spring, the leaves decay adding to the black mud common to these waters. So we allow some leaves to collect in our bog garden to replenish the mud naturally.

     So you are again probably wandering when we will show you the turtles. Did you notice the turtle in pic 14 above? Okay let's look at some mud turtles.

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     Four mud turtles and Quark, our male stinkpot, live in this pen. They are all very secretive and not seen often. Quark will bask on the sedge along with the mud turtles but is never seen on the small patch of land. The mud turtles do venture onto the soil. They like to bury themselves on land too. This is also how they lay their eggs rather than digging nests like most other turtles. So this small patch of land is provided with rich soil and heaps of partially decayed leaves and pine needles from our hibernation pile.

     There is a clump of day lilies and a clump or two of grasses for added cover. Creeping jenny plants were also planted which also extend into the bog. They must be removed like weeds or they will completely cover this small area.

     Feeding these turtles is different than feeding our other turtles. These turtles eat mostly at night and are, therefore, guided more by smell. There main diet is canned dog food placed on a small dish partially submerged on the incline.

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     They are also fed cooked turkey, hot dogs, and some corn tossed about for them to search for. Earthworms from our compost pile  are also tossed into the bog.  Being a naturalized bog there are veggies and other tiny critters available for them to eat. Floating grease from the food and vegetable oil from decaying plants has not been a problem.

     To naturalize the bog we collected some seaweed and water from vernal ponds to seed the bog with small critters. Bog plants like the clumps of yellow flag and the clump of sedge bring with them small organisms too. Tadpoles are also placed in the bog; the turtles eat most of them.

     We hope this successful experiment in bog garden turtle husbandry gives you some ideas for keeping your mud loving turtles. For us, we are pleased at the lushness of this garden without being a mass of algae. We do enjoy combining bog gardening with turtle husbandry. The turtles appear to be satisfied seeing that they can hide from us at will and dig all they want. Now that we know the mud turtles do like to spend time out of the bog, we plan on expanding this pen someday.

     We have panels that set on top of this pen for security. In summer only one panel is used over the land area because the bog plants grow so high. The pen itself will discourage herons and egrets from eating from it. We have not had any other predators visit it that we have seen signs of.

     For us we find that it is hard to take good pictures of these turtles because of the confines of the space in which to work and the low light under the bog plants. These turtles also do not become domesticated like many of our other turtles. But all things considered, we think the tradeoffs are worth it.

     One last though for those of you who may wish to raise amphibians. This bog garden pen would be very good for raising amphibians provided you do not have turtles in it to eat them. If you want to allow the amphibians to leave the pen while still protecting them, use cage wire with bigger openings than hardware cloth. If you want to contain the amphibians, use hardware cloth with 1/4" openings.

     That concludes our tour. We hope we have inspired you to play in the mud with your turtles.

 Revised 1/14/2010

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