How to Build an Outdoor Russian Tortoise Box

Written by virginia grant
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How to Build an Outdoor Russian Tortoise Box
Outdoor tortoises benefit from being able to forage. (galapagos tortoise eating image by Diane Stamatelatos from

Weather permitting, outdoor enclosures are the best homes for your tortoise. It will benefit from the sunshine and you can even plant edible vegetation for your tortoise to enjoy. There are two concerns to keep in mind when building your tortoise box: the box must keep the tortoise in and keep predators out. Tortoises are escape artists who can dig as well as climb. Tortoise predators can do both, and fly as well. A sturdy, practical Russian tortoise box can be made with 8-foot landscape timbers.

Skill level:

Things you need

  • 36 landscape timbers, 4-by-4 inches, 8 feet long
  • 4 pieces of lumber 2-by-2 inches, 3 feet long
  • 8 pieces of lumber 2-by-4 inches, 8 feet long
  • Hardware cloth
  • 3-inch wood screws, about 100
  • 2 hinges for lid

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  1. 1

    Mark off a 10-by-10 foot square area for your tortoise box. Choose a spot that you can see easily so you can enjoy watching your tortoise. An area with a mix of sun and shade is a bonus. Dig down at least a foot. Keep in mind that wild tortoises dig burrows to escape extreme temperatures and are expert excavationists. Level the bottom of the enclosure with sand for drainage and line it with hardware cloth. The cloth should extend far enough out that you can fold it up and secure it to the outside of the 8-foot landscape timbers once they are in place. If your cloth is less than 10 feet wide, use multiple pieces and overlap it in the centre.

  2. 2

    Arrange the timbers inside this dug out enclosure end-to-side at the corners. Alternate at each corner to create a lapped pattern like a brick wall. Put the first timber a couple of feet in from the left side of the enclosure, the next so that its left end abuts the inside of the left timber. The top of the right timber abuts the inside end of the top timber. The bottom timber's right end abuts the inside end of the right timber and its left end abuts the bottom of the left timber. Square out the corners, wrap the hardware cloth up around the top of the timber and staple in place.

    How to Build an Outdoor Russian Tortoise Box
    An interleaved pattern adds strength; as with this brick wall. (Corner of the house 2 image by amlet from
  3. 3

    Build the second tier so the pattern alternates. Check to make sure you are keeping it square. Make the third tier like the first, and the fourth like the second. Keep adding tiers in this overlapping, even/odd pattern to your desired height. Two and a half turtle lengths is the usual standard, so a Russian tortoise that grows to a length of 8 to 10 inches should have a box that is about 2 feet above ground and one below for a total of 3 feet.

  4. 4

    Secure the four 2-by-2 inch boards inside the corners and screw them into each timber. Fill the inside with dirt, pile rocks in the outside trench and fill in with dirt.

  5. 5

    Use the same overlapped pattern to make a lid with eight pieces of 8-foot-long, 2-by-4 inch lumber and hardware cloth. Sandwich the hardware cloth between the 2-by-4 inch boards and fasten securely at the corners and along the side. Secure the lid in place with hinges.

  6. 6

    Create a tortoise terrain. Add plants, sandy spots and a water dish to soak in. A clay pot half buried sideways makes a good tortoise home. Investigate sites like The Russian Tortoise Organization and Turtle Stuff for ideas.

    How to Build an Outdoor Russian Tortoise Box
    Sunshine above and green grass below; what more could a tortoise want? (little tortoise image by bedecs from

Tips and warnings

  • Discourage your tortoise from digging along the sides of its pen by providing a shelter with space to dig and placing smooth stones in any burrows or scrapes it makes around the perimeter.
  • The Russian Tortoise Organization has a list of edible plants you can include in your "tortoise-scape."
  • Do not use pressure-treated wood. It is toxic to tortoises.
  • The Russian Tortoise Organization has a list of toxic plants that should be kept out of the tortoise pen.

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