In recent weeks, I’ve observed a few three-toed box turtles in my yard in Jefferson City. It’s normal to see several of them each summer, often when the mulberry fruits are on the ground. Sometimes they are near a fence on the property boundary, their cross-country trek temporarily interrupted by the barrier. With a little looking, they find a way under it, courtesy of the backyard rabbit population. I found one this year, under the nose of my pointing bird dog. A few years ago, we even had a female lay eggs in our yard in late May. We marked the spot and saw the emerging newborns in August.
Last week I noticed that a box turtle has taken up residence in our backyard compost bin. It must be an athletic turtle, as he had to climb more than a foot off the ground to get through the fencing on the side of the bin. We throw vegetable and fruit scraps into the bin almost every day. The addition of topsoil, grass clippings and other green plant scraps makes for a loose pile for digging and a smell of overripe fruit – the turtle equivalent of a flashing “vacancy” sign at a Holiday Inn, I guess.
The compost bin has three compartments: one that we’re filling, one from which we’re using compost and one whose contents are still decaying but not ready to use. The turtle is in the compartment that we are currently filling, so it has access to the freshest scraps.
We always considered ourselves to be recycling table scraps and yard waste, but this turtle has added another element to the process. The difference between recycling and feeding a pet turtle has become blurred. My wife already told me to be careful when putting yard waste in the compost bin. I fully expect that some perfectly good fruits and vegetables will now go straight from our refrigerator to the compost bin without ever being served on our kitchen table. Maybe we should just call the process “cycling,” as long as the turtle remains in the loop.