Halloween may be over, but there is still plenty of pumpkin to be had this holiday season! If you are someone who makes your pumpkin pie with freshly scooped squash, you might be wondering what to do with the outer shell once you have harvested its pulp and seeds. If you’re like me, it feels wrong to throw the heavy remnants of your pumpkin straight in the trash. This dense crop helps contribute to the 30-plus million tons of food waste that go to our landfills in the U.S. each year. It’s estimated that 1 billion pounds of pumpkins contribute to that waste.
Luckily, there are plenty of possibilities for reusing or recycling this festive fruit. Consider trying one or two of these zero-waste options with your pumpkins this year:
• Bury the shell in your garden and let worms and other critters turn your pumpkins into fertile soil. Cut the shell into chunks first and remove the seeds, unless you plan on planting a pumpkin patch for next year.
• Roast the seeds for yourself or wildlife to eat. You can save them for planting as well; see below for more details on both of these options.
• Make a temporary bird feeder. It is best to do this with a fresh pumpkin as a moldy one can be harmful to birds. You can even roast the pumpkin seeds to put into your feeder, as long as you don’t add any oil or seasoning to them. Be sure to compost your feeder after a few days, before it begins to rot. Learn how to make your own at https://rangerrick.org/crafts_activities/recycle-a-pumpkin-into-a-bird-feeder/.
• Compost your pumpkin! You can simply throw it in your pile and see how long it takes to decompose, or you can cut it into small chunks to speed up the process. As with the burying method, be sure to remove seeds first to avoid growing unwanted pumpkins. Learn more about composting in the Conservation Workshops section of our website.
• Leave chunks of pumpkin shell beneath your bird feeders to give opossums, raccoons, and other scavengers a tasty treat, which might keep them from eating your bird seed (for at least a short time).
• Plant your seeds and help pollinators. If you do wish to grow a pumpkin patch, the obvious option would be to save your seeds for planting. Once they bloom, their bright orangish-yellow flowers will attract pollinating insects, which help promote soil and water conservation. Learn how to save your seeds at https://www.gardeningknowhow.com/edible/vegetables/pumpkin/saving-pumpkin-seeds-how-to-store-pumpkin-seed-for-planting.htm.
• Make fruit leather by dehydrating pumpkin flesh. In September we told you how “Pumpkins Have Delighted People for Ages,” and this is just one of the edible delights that was mentioned.
See our September article to find out more uses of pumpkins as well as other fascinating roles that they have played throughout history at https://soilandwater.co.delaware.oh.us/2020/09/10/read-in-depth-natural-resources-articles-from-our-staff/.
After you enjoy your pumpkin pie, pumpkin roll, or whatever form of pumpkin you fancy, do your part to conserve dwindling landfill space and improve the soil in your garden beds in the process. How many pounds of pumpkin can you recycle this year?
Erin Wolfe is outreach coordinator of the Delaware Soil & Water Conservation District. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.