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The end of spooky season comes with the temptation to throw away your jack-o’-lanterns without a second thought. But there are alternatives to find a use for your pumpkins after Halloween.
An easy way to reuse pumpkins is to split them into chunks and add them to compost. That way, they help fertilize the soil in gardens and local forests, or become treats for local wildlife like deer during wintertime.
“When the snow starts flying, those pumpkins are frosted up a good bit and the sugars have kind of broken down, it seems like the deer really enjoy them,” WVU Extension agriculture and natural resources agent Josh Peplowski said. “So it does add to the wildlife viewing in the backyard.”
Though the use of chemicals like bleach to keep pumpkins from decaying can be a concern, Peplowski says most household brands like Clorox are diluted, with the compound continuing to degrade in sunlight.
“Obviously if you were to drink that bleach straight, it would be toxic to wildlife and humans, but that’s not what we’re using those pumpkins for,” Peplowski said. “So don’t be concerned that just because you treated it with bleach, that you have to be concerned about feeding into the wildlife. It’ll be perfectly fine as long as you did it correctly.”
Other alternatives include feeding the fruits to pets, donating them to a farm, zoo or shelter as animal feed or even cutting off the top of the pumpkin and suspending the base from a tree branch to make a bird feeder.
“Certainly anyone can reuse the pumpkin seeds, clean them up, and roasting or baking them makes a handy snack,” WVU associate professor of plant pathology Jim Kotcon said. “The pumpkin flesh itself can be used as either wildlife food, or in some cases pets will enjoy those.”
Kotcon said these alternatives help give back to nature and promote sustainability instead of adding to overfilled landfills.
“Putting any kind of food waste or yard waste into a landfill does create some potentially harmful residues as those products break down,” said Kotcon. “And so finding a safe and environmentally sustainable alternative always makes sense.”
Watching out for paint, light bulbs or other harmful materials before feeding pumpkins to animals is also essential.
“You probably want to scrape those pumpkins off before you add them into the compost pile, or also before you add it out there for the wildlife feed,” Peplowski said. “A lot of those paints that people use are child safe and washable a lot of times so maybe just a good scrubbing will take those off.”