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Experts suggest creative uses for pumpkins after Halloween

Are your carved pumpkins beginning to look a little worse for wear? If those jack-o-lanterns are getting droopy, consider something more environmentally friendly than the trash can.

Two West Virginia University agriculture specialists contend there are far better fates for your post-Halloween gourds than being dumped in garbage.

Joshua Peplowski, agriculture and natural resources agent with WVU Extension, and James Kotcon, associate professor of plant pathology, WVU Davis College of Agriculture, Natural Resources and Design, suggest several alternatives — some good for native wildlife, others good for next year’s garden and a few more that are good for your belly.

Peplowski said decaying jack-o-lanterns can feed the earth — and the animals.

“Toss those pumpkins in the compost pile or out in the woods,” he said. “If you’re going to compost them, be sure to chop them up with a shovel and work them into the compost pile as this will help the decomposition process speed up over the winter,” he said.

Kotcon gave a couple composting tips, as well.

“A few things that are important to remember: carved pumpkins may break down quickly when exposed to sunlight and especially if they freeze, but they are still compostable.”

Peplowski said his family often uses their dying jack-o-lanterns to feed the deer.

“Our pumpkins end up as wildlife treats most years,” he said. “They usually sit there for a few weeks or months, but most years on the first real cold snap of winter, when the snow is flying, we can watch the deer munch away and enjoy this fall treat.”

But deer and other walking wildlife aren’t the only creatures who can benefit, either, Kotcon said.

“Make a bird feeder,” he explained. “Cut the top off the jack-o’-lantern and suspend the base from a branch on a string. The hollowed-out bowl can be filled with birdseed, and the rim makes a great perch.”
Pets, too, might like to partake, Kotcon added.

“Feed them to your pets. Not all dogs will like it, but some really do. You can even chop it up or puree it and add to their food. Pumpkins are a great source of fiber and vitamins. You can also consider donating them to a local farm, zoos or shelters that may accept fresh pumpkins as animal feed.”

If you treated your pumpkin with bleach to extend its life a bit, don’t worry — it doesn’t immediately make it trash, Peplowski said.

“Pumpkins treated with bleach to slow the decay process will not destroy your compost piles or kill the wildlife that consumes them,” he said. “While bleach is, in fact, toxic when consumed in a concentrated form, the bleach you buy is diluted and it gets further diluted in the water mixture you make. The compound is also degraded in sunlight, so by the time it is composted or consumed, it is safe.”

For those who opted for the paint brush over the knife when creating their pumpkins’ scary faces, Kotcon said the insides of the squash can still be useful.

“For painted pumpkins, save the seeds for next year or toast them for a tasty snack,” he said. “You can also peel painted pumpkins and use the fruit for pies, pumpkin soup or pumpkin bread. Carved pumpkins may decay more quickly, but if the skin is intact, pumpkins may be edible for months.”

Skip trying to feed the wildlife by throwing them in the yard whole, though, Kotcon cautioned.

“Painted pumpkins should not be used for feeding animals unless peeled, and you should be careful to remove any other hazardous materials like batteries or light bulbs before composting or feeding to animals,” he warned.