Pumpkins rotting in landfills produce methane, a climate change-causing greenhouse gas, and an especially scary one at that—it’s 20 times stronger than carbon dioxide.
So, if you don’t send your old pumpkin out in the trash, destined for burial in a landfill, what’s the best thing you can do with it?
We talked to three experts from CFAES for options. Spoiler alert: Sometimes (dun dun dun) they come back.
Let things eat it
Marne Titchenell, wildlife program specialist, School of Environment and Natural Resources, says:
- Recycle it if you can. Composting is a good option, because you’re recycling it and putting it back into the ground. But be sure to remove the seeds or you’ll have a pumpkin patch growing in your compost pile. [Below, Pam Bennett suggests the opposite approach.]
- Eat it—but obviously not a jack-o’-lantern that’s been sitting outside for the past two weeks. This year, I’m really excited to try making pumpkin butter.
- Birds will eat the seeds, so you could place them in a platform feeder. Don’t add any salt or seasoning—just let the seeds dry, or bake them. For smaller birds, you can help them out by breaking up the seeds into smaller pieces.
- You might choose to place a few pumpkin pieces in the feeder as well, or attached to a tree for squirrels. Place them out of the reach of deer and other critters, however. I don’t recommend feeding deer, raccoons, skunks, opossum, and other wildlife—animals that may venture into a yard for a readily available food source. That usually leads to trouble for the homeowner or the neighbors.
- I’ve also seen a few ways to make a bird feeder out of a pumpkin. It seems like a cute idea, and you can still compost the pumpkin when it starts to break down.
Set it aside, see what grows
- Throw it on top of the compost pile, and see what grows next year. Or, put it in an area of the garden where you don’t tend to visit much, and let it rot naturally—like, if you have an evergreen tree, stick it under the branches. Something like this decomposes so easily.
- I always put mine on the compost pile and have a pumpkin vine growing the next season. I typically watch what grows and maybe even get a few odd pumpkins once in a while. If something comes of it, great! If not, great, too!
Use it as food for soil and people
Tim McDermott, OSU Extension agriculture and natural resources educator and Growing Franklin blog writer, says:
- I make sure to scoop out all the seeds, rinse them until they’re clean, and then toss them lightly in olive oil, garlic salt, and roast them at 300 degrees until toasty. I love pepitas—roasted pumpkin seeds—on salads or as a snack. Very healthy.
- I then chop up the old pumpkin and it goes into my compost pile. Right now is a great time to start a compost pile with the leaves that are falling off the trees. Leaves are a valuable source of organic matter. Trees dig down deep into the subsoil to get nutrients, and the leaves are the end product of them. Leaves have more nutrients in them per pound than manure. They provide the carbon, and the old pumpkin provides the nitrogen, for an optimal compost ratio that will turn into a fabulous soil amendment in spring.
- If you’ve removed the seeds for pepitas, then you’ll have no weed problems from the old pumpkin, a win-win. [Again, also see Bennett’s more laissez-faire option.]
- I use my compost from my leaves and old pumpkins, plus kitchen scraps, to provide valuable organic matter to my garden each year, and that keeps it out of a landfill.
How to get started composting
Ready to start your own compost pile? Bennett shares tips on how to do it in this video.
Video: CFAES. Photo: Getty Images.