Pumpkins and Jack-o-lanterns are a timeless Halloween tradition, but what can you do with the hallowed out squash once the pumpkin carving contests and trick-or-treaters are over for the season?
Jack-o-lanterns and decorated pumpkins have many uses after Halloween is over. Instead of throwing your pumpkins away, try using them for your garden, animals, crafts, or fun games with you and your family.
How to Grow Plants in Pumpkins or Jack-o-lanterns
If you notice that your smiling Jack-o-lantern’s smile has contorted into a disturbing expression of pain, it is time for Jack to find a new purpose other than scaring unsuspecting Amazon delivery personnel.
Recycling ol’ Jack isn’t too hard, and can be a great asset to your yard and garden.
Since pumpkins are full of vitamins and minerals, as they decompose they can add nutrition and minerals to the soil for the new generations of fall and spring gardens.
If you live in warmer regions, such as the South and Southwest where frost is still a ways off, you can use your jack-o-lantern as a seed starter.
First, if your pumpkin isn’t too squishy, rinse out and dry your pumpkin if you used bleach or some other chemical earlier to help cut down on fungus development.
Next, drill or puncture 2-3 holes on the bottom of the pumpkin to allow for drainage.
Third, fill the pumpkin with soil.
Fourth, plant seeds or vegetable starts and water according to seed package direction.
Water and tend the plants regularly until you notice the outer shell of the pumpkin begin to get squishy or develops a strong rotten smell.
Remember, the rotten smell is a good thing. You want the pumpkin to decompose.
When it reaches this point, dig a hole in your garden bed or large pot and bury the pumpkin, leaving the top exposed.
When your fall vegetables are done growing and are harvested for the season, mix the soil thoroughly to disperse remaining pumpkin and allow oxygen in to finish the decomposition process.
How to Compost Pumpkins
If you prefer composting your pumpkin immediately after Halloween, then adding it to the compost pile is a great idea.
Composting a pumpkin will help to give your upcoming spring garden a boost of rich compost.
As discussed in our article about composting leaves, composting only has 3 parts to it:
- Chopping the vegetable or other green matter into small pieces.
- Applying a source of nitrogen.
- Turning the compost mixture regularly to allow air in.
However, before you can begin composting, you need to choose a spot.
You could go out and buy an actual composter with a handy turning feature, or you find a corner of your yard and designate it as a compost area.
Make sure it is an area out of the way, and not too close to sensitive noses.
Rot is the key player in decomposition, and it smells.
Step One- Reducing Pumpkin into Small Parts
Prepping the pumpkin for decomposition is easy…and fun.
Although a pumpkin begins to rot fairly quickly, it still can take some time before the rot turns it completely into mush.
To help up speed up the process, you could take a knife and chop it into several smaller pieces, or….
You can do the pumpkin stomp.
Having fun Composting
If you don’t mind getting a little mushy yourself, place the pumpkin directly into the compost pile and start stomping.
If your kids want to have a little fun, turn on music and play the freeze dance game with them.
First, forcefully throw the pumpkin in the compost pile making sure that it splits open so that the kids can step on it easily.
Second, have the kids go in and stomp as hard as they can as the music is playing, but have to freeze when the music stops.
Step Two- Ratio of Carbon and Nitrogen
You don’t need to be a scientist for this next part.
According to Cornell Composting-Science and Engineering, the ideal ration of Carbon based material to Nitrogen based material is 30:1.
Carbon based materials are basically dried out materials like dried out leaves, grass, hay, or so on.
The nitrogen in this equation is the pumpkin.
Fresh materials, such as vegetables (including pumpkins) that still have a high amount of nitrogen in them.
This makes them the perfect addition of nitrogen for your compost.
If you happen to have dried leaves raked up, shred them up with a mower and put them into the compost corner before adding the pumpkin, or if add them to a composter if you have one.
Mix the smashed pumpkin in with the leaves.
Step 3- Adding Oxygen
Surprisingly, rot is alive.
At least the microorganisms that create it are.
To help maintain the decomposition process, and to ensure a even and through breakdown of the materials, it is important to add oxygen once every 2-4 weeks.
This can be as simple as grabbing a shovel and turning the compost in the pile, or cranking the handle on your composter.
It can take around 3 months for compost to completely break down.
Fortunately you have all winter for Jack to completely decompose and be ready to help the garden in the spring.
Feeding Pumpkin to Animals
It isn’t only my kids who look forward to Halloween.
My animals absolutely love eating extra pumpkins and discarded Jack-o-laterns.
That is, as long as they aren’t painted or have some form of chemical applied on the inside or outside of the squash.
Pretty much every farm animal including chickens, goats, pigs, turkeys, sheep, horses, and cows find that pumpkins are their favorite seasonal treat.
Depending on the animal, we basically smash it as best we can so that way it is easier for them to eat it.
Most animals don’t like pumpkins that roll away from them.
If you have your own livestock, or a friend that may have a goat or two, you can see if you could give their furry friends an extra pumpkin treat.
The local wildlife also enjoys pumpkins.
Deer are known to be especially fond of pumpkins, as well as javelinas in my neck of the woods.
Make sure that pumpkins are not left somewhere that might tempt wild animals to come onto your property.
How to Make Pumpkin Peanut Butter Bird Feeders
If your pumpkin isn’t quite ready for the compost heap, you can cut it up and make a treat for the birds who are traveling south for the winter.
Making these bird feeders are fun, eco friendly, and easy:
- Wipe clean the outer pumpkin of any dirt.
- Cut the pumpkin into pieces roughly the size of your palm. If the pumpkin is still firm enough, you can cut out different shapes such as stars, hearts, or geometric shapes with a knife.
- Put a heavy coating of smooth peanut butter all over the pieces of pumpkin.
- Pour birdseed into a large shallow pan, such as a baking sheet or metal pie tin.
- Roll the peanut butter covered pumpkin around in the bird seed, until all surfaces of peanut butter are also covered with bird seed.
- Tie yarn or twine around the center of the pumpkin, or poke a hole in the middle of the pumpkin and tie one end of the string to the pumpkin, and the other end to a branch on a tree.
How to Make a Jack-o-Lantern Pumpkin Bird Feeder
If you don’t have that much peanut butter on hand, or if you would like a bird feeder that lasted a little longer, you can make a Jack-o-lantern bird feeder.
There are various designs that you can use, but this one is the easiest:
- Cut out one large whole on the side of the pumpkin (this can be where Jack’s face may be beginning to cave in). Make sure it is large enough to place bird seed, and large enough for the birds to enter.
- Mark off the pumpkin into thirds, then place a hole big enough to lace twine or yarn through in each section. Make sure the holes are not too close to the top or they will get ripped through.
- In each hole, thread a separate piece of yarn or twine through to the halfway point of the thread. Gather the two ends of each yarn in your hand. Make sure there is at least 1 foot between the pumpkin and the ends of the yarn.
- Tie all six yarn ends together with a double knot.
- Fill the cavity of the pumpkin with bird seed.
- Hang the pumpkin on a branch. Adjust it so that no seed is spilling out.
- Replenish seed as needed, and through pumpkin out once it can no longer hold birdseed.
Pumpkin soccer is a fun game for the whole family.
The game is played by two teams, each trying to get it to their respective goals with out breaking the pumpkin.
Just as in normal soccer, no hands are allowed.
To play, each team has their designated goal.
Depending on numbers, they may or may not have a goalie.
The teams have to try to get the pumpkin to their goal without breaking it.
The team that breaks the pumpkin, losses.
If you have some extra room, you can play the Pumpkin Lift game.
Using the basic premise of a fulcrum and lever, get a long wide board and a large tin soup can (fulcrum), or something that will serve the same purpose.
Have a competition to see who can use the fulcrum and lever to make the pumpkin fly highest or furthest.
You can adjust the configuration to see if it improves height and distance of traveling pumpkin.
Beware: Do not stand in path of flying pumpkins.
Pumpkins for Target Practice
If you enjoy sports such as archery or target shooting, pumpkins are a great target.
Make sure to follow all safety protocols when setting up targets and shooting of equipment.
Can I Make My Jack-o-Lantern into Pumpkin Pie?
Although Jack-o-Lanterns are pumpkins, it is not a good idea for them to be used to make pies.
If a pumpkin has been cut opened and allowed to dry out, it makes it hard to cook the pumpkin correctly.
Plus, there’s the fact that carved Jack-o-Lanterns sit on your doorstep being exposed to several germs, fungi, and pollutants.
Sugar pumpkins are a smaller, sweeter pumpkin that is usually used for pie making.
However, if you have an uncarved pumpkin, you can cut it up, bake it and process it to make pumpkin pie
Because of their size and taste, larger pumpkins are not frequently used for making pies.
Did you know that most canned pumpkin is actually mostly winter squash similar to butternut squash?
Jack’s New Purpose
By recycling your retired Jack-o-lantern, not only are you reducing waste, you are making new memories that go beyond Old Hollow’s Eve.
Start some new autumn traditions and find even more ways to use your pumpkin after Halloween.