Sunday, October 27, 2019

Conclusion of the Sod House Saga

OH, NO! It can't be over! Fourteen months ago to the day, I started building the Nebraska Sod House, home of Ruby and Will, young homesteaders from Indiana who chose Custer County, Nebraska, as the site for their sod house. Sod blocks were a necessary mode of construction on the vast, treeless plains of Nebraska. Now the soddy is finished, Will's corn crop is newly harvested, and he and Ruby have a bright future before them. I'm going to miss them, as I always miss all the inhabitants of my miniature houses. (And yes, I do know how that sounds; my husband, Robert, often cautions me to please not mention all these characters to any of our friends.)

 I thoroughly enjoyed the final phases of the soddy's construction. The landscaping (if it can correctly be called that) was fun to work on, using some real plant parts that I found in the Nebraska Sandhills and some that I found around a local lake where I enjoy my morning walks. I also continued to use corn silk (roasted) for the prairie grass that I needed. I hope you'll enjoy this post (long, as usual) - the final one featuring Ruby, Will, and their snug, small soddy.


As is often the case, I started the first phase of the soddy's landscaping by making a big mess. I was trying to form some contouring pieces for the yard of the sod house, and the floral foam was reluctant to cooperate.

I finally got the hang of it and shaped enough contour pieces to go all around the house, except for the back, where the landscape board is too narrow to need contours.

The next step was to spread wallboard compound over all the foam pieces.

I mixed a batch of paint to match the interior dirt floor and coated the wallboard compound generously.

I had to dig dirt from my Real Life flower beds to use for the yard, but at least the ground wasn't frozen this time, as it was when I tried to make the dirt floor for the interior. As before, I baked the dirt, then pounded it, then sifted it to get it as fine as possible.

I had a large amount of the prepared dirt to work with, but I used only about half of it. I hope my next project calls for some nice baked dirt.

This was another messy part of the landscaping - but I kept a hand-vacuum nearby to keep the worst of the dirt spills under control. I worked in small sections, spreading a thick layer of white glue on each section, then sprinkling dirt over the glue and pressing down firmly. Most of the dirt adhered well.


One of my neighbors stopped by to see my progress on the soddy. When she spied the meadowlark on the roof beam, she exclaimed, "Oh, you have the state bird! Are you going to have goldenrod, the state flower?" When I admitted that I wasn't really sure what goldenrod looks like, she told me that she had some growing in her garden. She went right home, cut a bunch of goldenrod, and brought it to me. I had no further excuse for not having goldenrod growing around the soddy!

I followed my usual method of buying artificial flowers and leaves, cutting them into bits and pieces, and contriving a goldenrod plant. (Sort of.) It's the best I could do, but it should probably be called a "prairie flower" just in case no resemblance to actual goldenrod can be seen.

Here are the contrived goldenrod flowers, along with the sunflowers that I made by combining ready-made miniature sunflowers with parts from a sunflower kit. I'm willing to go to great lengths to avoid making flowers from scratch!

I bundled the goldenrod into bunches to plant randomly around the soddy.


The soddy's landscaping, a very loose term in this instance, is completely au naturel, and it extends for acres around the house, until the natural growth is replaced by the acres of corn that Will planted in the spring and is now harvesting. This view is of the northwest side of the house, extending around to the front (south) side. You can see a small bunch of "goldenrod" growing here, along with prairie grass (roasted corn silk) and various weeds.

The front yard of the soddy has been partially landscaped with prairie grass, sunflowers, and dense, low-growing weeds.

I continued "planting" grass and weeds all along the front of the house.

Pictured above is the northeast side of the house, where I've begun the corner landscaping.

I've added more sunflowers, prairie grass, and weeds to the east side...

...and still more grass.

A view of the front and east sides of the house... 

...and on around to the back.


There were a few pieces that needed to be stained, painted, and aged. Above are some of the baskets and crates that were unfinished and needed further attention.

I needed to find room around the soddy for all these things, since there was no room inside for them. (I'm pretty sure that the chickens and pigs wouldn't have been allowed inside anyway!) On many occasions, when a hard downpour threatens, Will and Ruby dash out and carry in the tools and a few other things to protect them from the rain. Very soon now, Will plans to build a sod shed to hold most of the outdoor items. Can you find all these things in the photos below?

I made these potted geraniums months ago (from scratch!) intending them for the interior window sills, but I somehow made them too large. I think they'll be fine outside - the bright sunshine obviously makes larger plants!

Many homesteaders had at least one pretty canary in a cage hanging just outside their door. The bright color and cheerful birdsong made a pleasant change from  the rather colorless surroundings and the silence of the vast prairie. You can see that Ruby has been busy bringing in the early fall produce from her garden.

Shadow (Shad for short) is the family dog that keeps a careful watch over the house. He sometimes also keeps a very close and covetous eye on the chickens! Shad is well trained and hasn't tried to harm them, but there are other predators to be wary of. Ruby always closes the chickens up at night in their own coop made of sod blocks and brush.

A mid-morning or mid-afternoon snack of watermelon was a favorite of most homesteaders. Easy to grow in abundance, the watermelon provided a sweet, refreshing change from the limited diet of many settlers.

Kitty likes to sit in the sunshine; she also keeps a close eye on the chickens, but only out of curiosity.

A close-up of the current pile of cow chips that Ruby gathered earlier.

Will found a space to display his sparse collection of elk antlers. Some of his neighbors have a pile as high as a man!

The Hampshire sow and her piglet spend their days rooting around the yard, but they must also be shut in at night for safety from prairie predators such as coyotes.


The soddy needed a table to rest on, and since it's a low structure, I wanted a high table. I also wanted a somewhat rustic one, but had no luck finding anything close to the size I needed. So - Robert to the rescue! He obligingly made me a  table that's just the right size! Thank you, Robert!

The soddy's made-to-order table measures 41.5" wide, 33.5" deep, and 37.5" high. The lower shelf will hold books about sod houses. Robert added casters to the table legs so that it can be easily moved about.

The soddy is in its temporary space until we're ready to move it to Bison Hill, our home in the Nebraska Sandhills.

A portion of Custer County, Nebraska, where Ruby and Will have built their sod house, lies within the immense Sandhills region, so they will feel right at home in their new and permanent location at Bison Hill.

Finishing a long-term project always leaves me with a let-down feeling, and I'm usually not sure how I'll fill the void. But this time, although I'm sorry that the soddy no longer needs me, I have so much work to do in my Real House that I think the void won't be so noticeable. I'm planning a clearing-out binge that has Robert looking worried, but I will show no mercy to all the accumulated stuff - nor to any misplaced sentiment. (I hope!)

After that, (and I have no idea how long this clearing-out frenzy will last), I'm going to begin researching the coast of Cornwall in England. I know a tiny writer who is longing to have a tiny cottage there, where she can spend her days in creative solitude, with only the sound of the sea to keep her company. I hope to see you all there, my friends, to meet this new inhabitant of my next project.

Saturday, September 28, 2019

The Forgotten Door

I always knew, of course, that the Nebraska Sod House would need a front door, but somehow both Will and I kept forgetting to build one. Now, the need for a door is definitely at hand, and it's high time to get busy making one. Some homesteaders, in a hurry to move into their soddy, simply hung a piece of canvas to cover the doorway, but Will wanted something sturdier than canvas for Ruby's door. By "borrowing" some boards from the wagon that had brought them across the prairie and using some scrap wood from packing crates that he had dismantled, Will managed to assemble enough wood to build a "real" door for the soddy.

This is my rough sketch of a segment of the door's interior side. The homemade latch was commonly used on the prairie. A short wooden bar was fastened loosely to the door at one end, and the other end dropped into a notched wooden block fastened to the wall or door frame. The door could be unlatched from the outside by pulling on a leather thong fastened to the bar and hanging out through a hole a few inches above the bar - thus, a latchstring hanging out became a symbol of prairie hospitality. If no company was wanted, the settler locked up by pulling in the latchstring. 

The simple door is made by using three boards and adding stabilizing cross pieces.

The wooden latch bar has been attached, and the notched block is fastened to a sturdy board.

The exterior of the door has a wooden handle that I cut from a scrap piece of window frame that I found in my stash. It was exactly what I was looking for!

I stained both sides of the door to achieve the look of old wagon wood. When the door was finished, Will applied a generous coating of oil.

 Will fashioned door hinges from pieces of leather that he keeps for mending harness. After he sells his corn crop, perhaps he'll be able to afford iron hinges. 

 For now, the stiff and sturdy leather works just fine. The latch bar and the latchstring have been attached, and the door is ready to hang in the door frame.

The latchstring is out on the exterior side of the door.

 The board with the notched wooden block is attached to the door frame. Because the door is set at the outside of the deep doorway, the notched block couldn't be attached to the interior wall of the house.

 The soddy has a working door!

Welcome! Come on in - the latchstring is always out!

At last, Will and Ruby have a strong door that will add to the coziness of their snug sod house. With the arrival of autumn and harvest time, they're starting to also look ahead to months of a harsh prairie winter. The door will be much appreciated when the north wind begins to howl across the plains.