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.


  1. What a wonderful project and history lesson. I had to laugh when you said your husband didn’t want you mentioning Ruby and Will in public. I also have dollhouse inhabitants; they have become mascots for my builds. I didn’t let them out of my family group for fear people would think I’ve lost it. Then I joined a miniatures club. When I timidly mentioned the dolls, the members didn’t bat an eye. I wish Ruby and Will a happy life in their new soddy and look forward to your Cornwall cottage.

    1. Hello, Sherrill - I do sometimes feel as though I'm leading a secret, double life! The miniature people I invent are very real to me, but I don't always admit that. When I finished Villa del Vigneto, the Tuscan villa, I threw a celebratory party and told all about the construction process and the inhabitants, and - just as you said - no one batted an eye! In fact, one of my friends asked me how I had found out so much of the family's history; she thought I was talking about a real family! I admitted that it was all make-believe, right out of my head, but I still didn't see any eyes batting.
      I'm so glad that you took time to visit the soddy, and I hope you'll follow along on the Cornwall Cottage challenge.

  2. Un maravilloso proyecto que a llegado a su fin,ya puedes sentirte orgullosa de él,ha quedado fantástico,muy realista,pleno de detalles magníficos!!!!!
    De verdad,que has vuelto a hacer un perfecto trabajo,no te sentirás vacía,porque seguro,dentro de poco tiempo,tu cabeza bullirá con nuevas ideas,esa costa de Cornwall te está esperando!!!

    1. Hello, Pilar - I'm very happy that you've enjoyed following the work and the pleasure of the sod house. And I'm sure that you're right - in spite of feeling a bit sad right now, I know that soon I'll have those itchy fingers that are ready to get on with another construction adventure! Thank you so much for your nice comments and encouraging words!

  3. Wow Marjorie! The landscaping came out amazing with the natural dirt and the sculpting of the surface! And all of the natural grasses and weeds and plants look amazing against the sod house which is incredible!

    This is going to be such a stunner in your Sandhills home, I hope you'll get lots of opportunities to share it! And maybe even enter it in the fair!
    Robert did a fine job on the table and I love that there will be a shelf below for educational reading opportunities! This would be a great project to share at an elementary school as part of a Nebraska History teaching program.

    From start to finish, you have mastered methods and techniques to create an astounding representation of an historical and important part of Nebraska history. Both the story and the structure are so fun and so educational, and you should be so very proud of your accomplishments!

    As for the new Cornwall England Cottage - I am stoked! It sounds marvelous! Please hurry with the purge and don't make us wait too long! Godspeed!

    1. Hi, Jodi - I appreciate all your lovely comments and encouragement. This project has held a special place in my heart from the beginning, partly because it's very close to home, which makes it easy to identify with all those early pioneers - I traverse their spaces and encounter their descendants every day! I love your suggestion of sharing the soddy at an elementary school; I'll work on that idea. Now I must begin that "purge" while I dream of the Writer's Cottage in Cornwall!

  4. The project turned out great. I bet you are feeling quite a sense of accomplishment? You did a wonderful job on everything including the landscaping and the display table is a great idea too! Your work is inspiring. Great photos too! Looking forward to your next project.

    1. Hi, Troy - Thanks for your comments - and yes, it always feels very good to complete a project that has taken so much time and attention and effort, even if it was mostly fun and pleasure! I'm happy that you followed along for the duration.

  5. Un proyecto espectacular, puedes estar muy orgullosa Marjorie del trabajo realizado ,has logrado una casa de Nebraska muy fiel a la documentación que has recopilado y ponerlo en la mesa que Robert te ha hecho ha sido una gran idea, felicitarle de mi parte, es una mesa genial.
    Ánimo con la limpieza , seguro que cuando termines ya tendrás claro el nuevo proyecto y estaré encantada de seguirlo con entusiasmo como este. Besos:-)

    1. Hello, Rosa Maria - Thank you so much for those lovely and encouraging comments! I've enjoyed the months of working on the soddy, but I know that I'll soon be ready to move on to the next thing. (After I clear out all those drawers and closets and cupboards!) I hope you'll continue to follow along on my Cornwall adventure.

  6. Ahhhhhh What a GREAT PLEASURE it has been, to see the finished soddy AND your WONDERFULLY ACCURATE prairie garden!!!!
    The cornsilk makes Ideal dry grasses and the bank of them you've planted alongside the property looks Perfectly Natural!
    And I lOVE the real dirt you've used and the free-ranging animals scratching and rooting about in it along with those stacks of dried cow patties- It's all simply Wonderful!!!
    Bonus regarding your neighbours visit and the goldenrod she's suggested, which immediately added even more authenticity to the yard.
    The various tools and implements arranged against the walls and the canary in the cage and the baskets of produce by the front door and the vibrant geraniums and happy sunflowers makes the entire landscaping appear to be actively and creatively in use- BRAVO Marjorie and Happy Trails to Will and to Ruby; until we meet again! ❤️❤️❤️

    1. Hello, Elizabeth - It's always such a pleasure to read your lovely comments. I appreciate your attention to so many of the smaller details that I'm never sure will actually be noticed! I spent many happy hours constructing this sod house, and although I enjoy building each house, this one is a little nearer and dearer to my heart, probably because it does reflect so much of Nebraska's history. But I definitely feel ready for a rest - at least from mini projects. There's no real rest in store until I get a grip on the accumulation of completely unnecessary stuff that came out of nowhere and wants to take over my home! (At least that's how I'm feeling right now, although I know that's mostly in my head.) But I'm sure that plans for the Writer's Cottage in Cornwall will be "gentle on my mind" while I take care of this necessary clearing out.

  7. Dear Marjorie, I am so able to relate to your feeling of loss at the completion of a long project! We become so absorbed into our tiny worlds... we inhabit them truly in a way we can't in a larger RL home... creating every bit and piece, inventing the stories... and then reaching a point where it is finished! I am so glad you have a handy husband to build you a table... I need about four of those! LOL! But maybe not so tall! :)
    I am really looking forward to seeing the next project get under way... Cornwall!!! *Sigh*
    But first, to let you know that your landscaping of the Soddy is a masterwork of detail and invention and Realism! The sparse weeds and grasses... from being trodden on all the time... the pets, the livestock, the potted plants and even the canary all speak so much about the lives of the inhabitants of this little house! You have left nothing out... the pile of cow chips! The antlers! The goldenrod... even when you had never seen it before! And the overall effect is a realism that feels like we stumbled into a Lilliput of the nineteenth century! Bravo for an Amazing project! It has been a fascinating and educational project from beginning to end! I too, am sad to see it is finished.... but only because it has been so engaging to watch it come together.... I wish it could go on and on!
    Enjoy your "clean-out" and I will be waiting for Cornwall!

    1. Hi, Betsy - I appreciate your many positive comments about the soddy. This project has been a special one for me, because the sod house and its history are so near and ever present. I've also enjoyed getting to know Will and Ruby - and I'm happy that they'll continue to be snug in their little soddy in the sandhills of Nebraska! The "clean-out" is already underway and much progress has been made. I've realized, though, that Robert unfortunately doesn't have the same aversion to clutter that I have. "But you can't get rid of that!" is his favorite new exclamation. Nevermind that whatever it is has been packed away for at least twenty years. Interesting times ahead! But Cornwall is waiting and is a soothing thought in the midst of this bit of chaos that I'm creating!

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  9. My life has been so crazy the last 6 months that I missed the conclusion of Will and Ruby's house! I am so pleased to see how perfect it turned out (even if I am late to the party)! The landscaping is wonderful (and I wouldn't know what a goldenrod looked like if I tripped over it so go ahead and call all your flowers goldenrods! I don't know what all flowers are called, but I can tell you that your flowers look beautiful around their home.). I love the animals all around too and the rooster/chicken in the elk horn remains is the best.
    And I am equally as happy to know that although Will and Ruby's story is complete now, there is another story and home on the way! I eagerly look forward to it! - Lori K.

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