Sod is the surface layer of ground containing a mat of grass and some nongrass herbaceous plants and roots. In contemporary U.S. lawn maintenance, sod is farmed in fields, cut, rolled up, transported to building sites, and laid down on bare earth. In landscapes with little wood, sod has been used as both fuel and building material. In pioneer days on the American Great Plains, settlers often lived in sod houses. The densely tangled deep prairie roots of grasses, forbs, and topsoil made a tough and freely available building material. Settlers cut twofoot-square sod bricks and stacked them up into sturdy, thick walls. Heavily insulated, the houses helped keep families warm in winter and cool in summer. Wood was used sparingly—for doors and perhaps a window or two. Pioneers whitewashed the inside sod walls and stuffed the cracks with newspaper to hold out the wind whipping across the prairie. Grasses often continued to grow on the roof of the soddie, where the family goat might find a meal. In Little House on the Prairie, Laura Ingalls Wilder writes: “Pa had a new plow, a breaking plow. It was wonderful for breaking the prairie sod. It had a sharp-edged wheel, called a rolling coulter, that ran rolling and cutting through the sod ahead of the plowshare . . . the strip of sod was exactly twelve inches wide, and as straight as if it had been cut by hand.”

Mary Swander

On the other side of the spring, the root cellar squatted deep in the bank beneath its cowl of sod.

— Kim Barnes, In the Wilderness

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