Stop Throwing Rotting Pumpkins in the Trash (Do It Instead)

The only thing sadder than the sunken, withered, moldy Jack lantern on your porch is the lantern in the trash can. Even if you don’t have a compost heap in your backyard, there simply isn’t a good reason to send discarded Halloween decorations to landfill – you can use them well in other ways as well. Here’s how to give unneeded pumpkins a second life.

First things first: remove (and save) the seeds.

Pumpkin seeds are more than just a delicious snack: they are the source of pumpkins. The most environmentally friendly disposal methods include tossing your old pumpkins out of the cold, where exposed seeds can sprout and take root. If you don’t want a dozen (or a hundred) surprise plants in a few months, scoop out these seeds, peel the fibrous pulp, and spread them out to dry. From there, you can roast them in the oven with olive oil and salt , leave them for the birds, turn them into milk-free milk, or use them to grow your own pumpkins – seemingly on purpose.

Leave pumpkins for the wild

The easiest way to make soft pumpkins is to let nature take its course. If you have a yard and a few unpainted pumpkins to throw away, just leave them where raccoons, squirrels, birds, and insects can find them. (Don’t try this with painted pumpkins; the paint can be toxic to animals.) Small pumpkins can be disposed of as-is, while larger ones need to be broken into smaller pieces so the critters can easily get away with them. It won’t take long for the notes to disappear completely.

Donate them (yes, really)

If your Jack-O-Lanterns aren’t quite in the “liquid slime” decomposition phase yet, or you have intact decorative pumpkins, you may be able to gift them. Farms and community gardens can use them as compost, while zoos and animal shelters use them as fun entertainment. Smashing pumpkins and other gourds to smithereens is nature’s puzzle-feeder, giving animals a healthy, tasty snack and mental exercise. (To have a good time, just watch the Oregon Zoo elephants stomp giant pumpkins at the annual Squishing of the Squash.)

Some places do not accept pumpkin donations, but this happens more often than you think, especially in October and November. Just make sure you confirm your donation by phone or email before rolling up a chest full of quickly softening pumpkins.

Bury them

Sometimes the pumpkin has gone too far to be found anywhere other than a compost heap. If you already own one of these, you can grind your (seeded) pumpkin lanterns and throw them straight into the ground. But if you don’t, you can compost the old-fashioned way: bury them in your yard.

Burying food waste – also called in-place composting – is an easy and convenient way to return nutrients to the soil. According to the Oregon State University Expanded Program , all you have to do is “bury organic material at least 12 inches deep into your garden soil, changing locations.” (The depth of the soil is important; you don’t want raccoons or other animals to smell and scoop the whole thing up.) Chopping the pumpkin into smaller pieces will help them decompose faster, so if that’s a plus, go for it. Otherwise, you can literally put your moldy pumpkins in a hole in the ground and your garden will be even happier.

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