Backyard Turtles
Tour Nine
Our Old Turtle Pond

     In Tour Ten we will show you how we built our new concrete lined turtle pond. To appreciate the new pond, we feel it is necessary to show you how we got there. It was a bit of an evolution. We also want to show you that you need not spend much money to make water turtles happy.

     Our turtle pen was built in a hurry after moving to our present home. A large oval corral was constructed in the back yard encompassing lawn and a raised mound planted with three young Bradford pear trees. The pen was completed in time to prepare a leaf pile against the mound for our turtles to hibernate in.

     The following spring most of the grass was removed and many flowering plants were added for the turtles to hide among. Interestingly two turtles began nesting while we were working a few feet away removing grass. The three trees provided shade but there was not much cover for the turtles at first. During the summer we decided to put a pond in the middle of the raised mound between the three shade trees. This was before TurtleTails.com and our first digital camera so we do not have pictures to show you. Most of the original corral was also replaced before these pictures were taken.

     This first pond began as a experiment. We studied techniques for building fish ponds and decided we did not want a pond with heaps of sharp rocks covering the top of a rubber liner nor would we have a fancy water falls. We wanted a naturalistic water hole or vernal pond. We did not even have any water turtles to use the pond. Our initial investment was only a piece of rubber pond liner. A depression was dug about a foot deep and about eight feet in diameter in the mound between the three pear trees. The rubber liner edges were covered with soil, round river rocks, and plants. In the pond we put several buckets of pondweed. What the books showed that we did not do was to use a fabric liner over the rubber pond liner for this type of pond. At the end of the season the pond was drained knowing we had to do something different the following year.

     We found a pair of discarded landscape timbers and decided to use them on one side of the pond as the edge. Another timber was purchased for the side nearest our house. The liner was nailed to these timbers using half rounded strips of wood. Concrete was used to cover the remainder of the top of the pond liner. Concrete was also used to support the board that would hold the liner up to block the outflow. This construction can be seen in the pictures of the pond as it appeared drained for a winter some years later.

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         Visible in the pictures are hardware cloth ramps that were installed to allow box turtles to climb out of the water. All the water turtles could easily climb out of the water, but box turtles had trouble. The box turtles would swim against the slippery rubber liner endlessly rather than reach up for a foot hold like the water turtles do. A ramp was also constructed out of scrap lumber to fill the outflow area. Without it some water turtles would try to sit on the top of the narrow board. 

     The folds in the rubber liner are the result of filling in the hole under the liner to reduce the amount of water the pond would hold so that it would take less water to refill the pond. Prior to that the pond had been deepened once thinking more water would be better. You can also see the old electrical box on a post. We had tried several arrangements to filter the pond that failed. All filters tried would be completely clogged after just two days of running. Also note the size of the tree trunks flanking the pond. The Bradford pear trees had grown considerably when these pictures were taken several years after the pond was built.

     We also tried goldfish which turned out to be more work. We purchased ten feeder fish and three survived. Then we purchased ten more and two more survived. The following year they were growing and breeding. This was before we had a snapping turtle to eat them. Because they were growing and increasing in numbers, we gave them to a neighbor for his pond.

     Without filtration, the pond had to be drained, cleaned, and refilled every few weeks. Our turtles adapted to the routine. Cleaning did not take long at all. Preparation included removing the ramp at the outflow, placing a tub near the outflow to put turtles in, and getting a broom and garden hose ready. Then the board holding up the rubber liner was pulled to release the water. Turtles caught flowing out with the water were placed in the tub just to get them out of the way. When the pond was empty, it was scrubbed with the broom, hosed out, and then refilled. Some turtles took it in stride and would not even get out of the way. Some turtles scattered for a time. Take a look.

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     A feeding routine developed around the pond cleanings and the arrival of Emily, our large Florida red-bellied turtle. When Emily joined us she would eat greens and pond pellets but no meats. We were already growing arrowhead plants in a water container and a bog garden outside of the turtle pen so we had a steady supply of greens for her. After cleaning the pond the turtles were given only greens and pellets to eat. Within about a week the water became murky from all the turtle poop, dirt dragged into the pond by the turtles, and dropping from the three trees overhanging the pond. Then the turtles would receive plates of canned dog food mixed with corn set by the edge of the pond. Emily quickly developed a taste for corn and dog food. Take a look.

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     Meats like canned dog food will contaminate the water with a greasy film. Placing the plate of food outside the pond helps greatly but does not prevent it completely. We would not recommend this for pond owners who rely on filtration to keep their ponds clean. If you have domesticated turtles you will understand it when we tell you that our turtles make it known when they want a plate of "good stuff".

     While Emily developed a taste for meats, she has also influenced the eating habits of the other water turtles. She likes greens everyday and is joined by most of the other water turtles.  They may not eat as many greens as she does, but they do join in. All those greens end up back in the water a few days later and are the major problem for any filter.

     So a pattern of feeding developed around the pattern of draining and refilling the pond rather than filtering it. When we did try filtering the pond, we used so much water to clean the filter that we decided to just use it to refill the pond more often.

     The trees were a big problem beginning in spring when they flowered and then dropped all the peddles in the water. Then came the little seed clusters. As they grew we were constantly pruning them to let in sunlight to warm the water. Pruning was like cleaning the pond, the turtles would not get out of the way. And of course there were always leaves falling in the water.

     We have many good memories of happy turtles enjoying the old pond. Perhaps the best image is the group of turtles basking with Emily. The deep shade under the trees combined with glare on the water was not a good condition for photographing the turtles. Most of the good pictures from these years are of basking turtles. You have already seen many of them in other tours. Here are a few more pictures.

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     You are probably thinking that this is a pretty poor excuse for a turtle pond especially for the home of TurtleTails.com. We always knew that we would have to replace the pond; it was a matter of when and with what. While constructing a security fence around the turtle pen in 2007 and preparing to install a bog in 2008, a light wet snow changed everything. Our first snow of the year came while our trees were still wearing their fall colors. Snow on trees still holding their leaves is never good. I took some pictures even though the lighting was poor.

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     As my wife and I pulled into our driveway after work the following day, we were expecting to find damaged trees in the yard. We were not expecting what we came home to. Each Bradford pear tree was severely damaged and each had damaged the new fence still under construction. Bradford pear trees are prone to splitting and they are the last trees to drop their leaves. There would be no saving the trees. The water turtles were in the basement hibernating and the box turtles were in their leaf pile hibernating so all the turtles were safe and unharmed.

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     There was nothing to do but get out the chain saw and remove the trees. While the pond did not sustain damage from the initial tree damage, some damage occurred while removing the tree trunks. When the pond would be replaced was clear; it would have to be replaced before the turtles would need it the following April. The bog planned for spring featured in Tour 7: Building a Bog Garden for Turtles would have to wait. There was not much snow that winter so the trees were removed before the ground thawed in spring. Luckily the turtles were hibernating so they were not under foot.

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     We want to conclude this tour on a positive note. While we may lament at the change in scenery from one season to the next, the turtles took it in stride. After all winters often change the landscape turtles use by bringing down trees and the like. Turtles adapt which is why they can adapt to captivity so well. And our domesticated turtles take our intrusions into their spaces like cleaning the pond as normal. Turtles do not take being inconvenienced as negatively as people do.

     So the stage is set to write Tour 10: Our New Turtle Pond. We hope you find this ninth tour of the Backyard Turtles series of tours enjoyable and informative. Come back again for there is much more to come.

Revised 1/14/2010

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