A second life for jack-o’-lanterns: Creative ways to repurpose fall and Halloween pumpkins

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Almost everyone uses pumpkins to decorate for Halloween and Thanksgiving. This year, why not say ‘boo’ to just throwing those pumpkins in the garbage and find some way to recycle and reuse those pumpkins for good? That idea makes these jack-o’-lanterns grin with gladness. / Photo by Beth Christian Broschart

BUCKHANNON – The fun of Halloween trick-or-treating, dressing up and consuming gobs of sweet treats is over – and we’ve even lived through our first snow of the season.

But some people’s jack-o’-lanterns still hanging around.

This year, don’t just toss your festive fall or haunted Halloween pumpkin – carved or not – in the trash.

When My Buckhannon took a survey of the “folks in the know,” many different ideas for using, reusing, recycling, repurposing and disposing of Halloween and fall pumpkins were uncovered. The people we talked to had an assortment of interesting ideas for moving pumpkins and jack-o’-lanterns to their next “life.”

If your pumpkins were not cut and have not fallen victim to rotting, why not cut them open and remove the seeds? Pumpkin seeds are high in protein, a great source of potassium and a delicious snack.

  • To prepare the seeds, scoop out and wash them, separating them from the pumpkin pulp. Spread the seeds on a baking pan and toss with salt, butter and pepper. Bake at 350 degrees for 15 to 20 minutes. Pillsbury.com also suggests making the pumpkin seeds Italian by adding 2 tbsp. of melted butter, ¼ cup of grated Parmesan cheese and ½ tsp of Italian seasoning.
  • Alternatively, sweeten up pumpkin seeds by adding 2 tbsp. of melted butter, 1 tbsp. of brown sugar and ½ tsp. of cinnamon; make them savory by adding 2 tbsp. of melted butter, 1 tsp. of seasoned salt and 1 tsp. of white vinegar after roasting; or spicy, by adding 2 tbsp. of olive oil, ½ tsp of Cajun seasoning and ½ tsp. of fresh lime zest, after roasting.

And, yes, you can eat the outer shells, or crack them open and just eat the soft green center of the seed.

If pumpkin seeds aren’t your favorite, why not share them with our friends who sing for us – the birds?

To prepare the seeds for the birds, wash and separate the seeds from the pulp. Place the seeds on a baking sheet greased with a little vegetable oil and roast the seeds at 300 degrees for 40 minutes, turning the seeds about every five minutes. Make sure to completely cool the seeds before using them to fill up a bird feeder.

If your pumpkins are still in great shape, why not keep displaying them through the Thanksgiving holiday? Pumpkins are not just for Halloween but can be used to decorate for the entire Fall season and offer great pops of color.

Callie Cronin Sams, information coordinator and grant writer for the City of Buckhannon, shared some ideas for reusing Halloween pumpkins as well. Her first suggestion was an idea from the National Audubon Society, which suggests making pumpkin bird feeders as a “Happy Harvest” treat for feathered friends. It says this method is “the perfect use for an extra or a post-trick-or-treat pumpkin.”

The directions are on the above-listed website, which also includes an online bird guide as well as an offer for a free Audubon bird guide application to help identify those birds who stop to partake of your reused pumpkin bird feeder.

“We want residents to know that now that Halloween is over, they just don’t need to throw their pumpkins and jack-o’-lanterns away,” Sams said. “In our case, we have our own compost pile. So that is an option for folks who have a garden. It can be buried.”

She said the City of Buckhannon also offers yard waste pickup.

“Through the end of November on the first and third Fridays, they do yard waste pickup, which includes leaves, grass clippings or any kind of pruning waste, or cutting back on shrubs. This pickup could also include the pumpkins or Christmas trees in December.”

Sams said residents simply need to call Buckhannon City Hall in order to get on the list for pickup.

“Even if people are already on the yard waste pickup list, we ask that you call each year and let us know you want to continue to be included on the list each year,” Sams said. “It is for in-city folks only.”

But Sams said anyone who is part of the waste collection system can bring two truckloads per year of yard waste to the Waste Transfer Station on Mud Lick Road.

“So, if the customer is outside the city limits, and they want to do that they can do that,” Sams said.

Sams said she also wanted to mention that the city composts the yard waste that is collected and uses it in the flower beds throughout town, which also include the sweet potato vines.

“We’ll be harvesting these soon, which are then delivered to the Parish House to be included in their holiday meal baskets,” Sams said. “It’s a great example of green practices in Buckhannon that help the environment and our residents!”

Beth Henry-Vance is the public information specialist for the W.Va. Department of Environmental Protection Youth Environmental Program, which serves Upshur, Barbour, Braxton, Clay, Lewis, Nicholas, Pocahontas, Randolph, Tucker and Webster counties. She shared some ideas for recycling pumpkins and jack-o’-lanterns.

“The National Wildlife Federation website suggests composting pumpkins if they are not painted and if they do not have any glitter or wax on them,” Henry-Vance said. “Don’t include the seeds when composting unless you want pumpkins to sprout in that area of your garden or yard next year.”

Another idea would be to take the used pumpkins, cut them into pieces and scatter them in your yard for the wildlife to enjoy.

“You could set the entire pumpkin out with the seeds still in it for the squirrels and such to enjoy, or you could suspend it from a string for the birds and wildlife,” she said.

Hanging on to the seeds is another way to recycle or reuse the pumpkin. Henry-Vance said once the seeds are dried, they can be replanted the following year.

“You can look up the process for this online simply by searching Google,” she said.

Henry-Vance also offered an idea for an environmental learning program.

“There is an activity that has been very popular with some local Girl Scout troops,” she said. “Our participants in the Youth Environmental Conference used to put a mix of trash inside of a jack-o’-lantern and bury it. They would mark the spot where it was buried in the fall. In the spring, they’d dig it back up, and it shows kids what has decomposed and what has not.”

“You can learn about how long some items last after they are thrown away and how some things like candy wrappers could take a long time to decompose while other items such as paper napkins, an apple core or more natural products may have fully decomposed after being unearthed,” Henry-Vance explained.

She said this activity is a great learning opportunity and has been popular with kids in West Virginia. She said it works best when using a mix of materials such as newspaper, a soda can, an apple core, an orange peel, a plastic straw and candy wrappers.

“Some of the groups use Earth Day as the time to dig up the pumpkin to see what happened to its contents,” she added.

One other activity Henry Vance talked about was one she found online at www.littlebinsforlittlehands.com, which gives instructions for making a pumpkin volcano using items such as baking soda and vinegar.

Finally, Henry-Vance said some areas in West Virginia take care of extra pumpkins with a ‘Pumpkin Stomp.’

“I had never heard of this type of thing, but some pumpkin farms invite people to come to their fields and stomp on and jump on the leftover pumpkins,” she said. “This gets the seeds spread out in the field. I thought that was a great idea.”

Other online ideas for repurposing pumpkins include making pumpkin soup, making pumpkin puree for pumpkin treats, making vegetable stock, baking pumpkin muffins and pumpkin bread, using them to feed livestock and chickens, using them as a planter for other plants, make pumpkin flaxseed dog biscuits or use the pumpkin to make a beauty treatment.

So, whether you reuse, stomp, toast the seeds, recycle or share your pumpkin with local birds and wildlife, there are plenty of ways to enjoy your leftover pumpkins and jack-o’-lanterns!