While decorative gourd season may have spawned many memes, there’s no doubt that Americans go crazy for pumpkins in the fall, especially during the run-up to Halloween. In fact, according to the USDA, the U.S. produced more than 1.5 billion pounds of pumpkins in 2018. But what happens to those pumpkins when those jack-o’-lanterns are extinguished for good?
Before you fill your garbage bin with has-been giant squash, we’ve got some ideas for ways to recycle them. Check out these 11 ways to repurpose your pumpkins, and maybe you’ll be inspired!
1. Treats for backyard critters and birds
These days, we could all use more of the comical distractions of bushy squirrels scurrying about or perhaps the pretty songs of a nightingale to soothe our anxiety. Those jack-o’-lanterns are perfect for enticing (cute) backyard critters.
Uncarved pumpkins will work, too, but you can speed things up by cutting them in half. Of course, not all critters are welcome. The National Wildlife Federation says large animals such as bears might be attracted to your yard if you put out pumpkins, so if you’re in bear territory, beware.
Happy #NationalPumpkinDay 🎃! After Halloween, don’t trash your pumpkins: there are several ways to recycle them with wildlife and your garden in mind. Learn more: https://t.co/0MyCAzI8Tc pic.twitter.com/uOVvKpsdB9
— National Wildlife Federation (@NWF) October 26, 2018
In March, as people were sheltering at home and avoiding grocery stores, “victory gardens” saw a surge in popularity in backyards across the country. Whether your garden is still growing or you’ve harvested your crop, you can enrich the soil by composting leftover Halloween pumpkins.
“If you want to use your leftover pumpkin and don’t have a composter, you can cut it into smaller portions and mix it into your soil,” says Meredith McAllister, owner of Compost Collective, in Kansas City, MO. “If you go that route, be prepared for a few volunteer pumpkins to show up in your garden next year.”
That could be fun to watch for next year, but if you don’t want any pumpkins sprouting and mingling with veggies next year, remove the seeds for roasting, or toss them out for critters to eat. You can also search for local composting facilities that accept pumpkins.
3. Gratitude pumpkin
One of the great things about pumpkins is that they have a long shelf life, as long as they are kept in a relatively cool and dry space. That includes the dining table.
Heather Schisler of Passion for Savings wanted to motivate her kids to look for things they could be thankful for on a daily basis (a great exercise in troubling times). Cue the leftover pumpkin for a festive and delightful way to mark Thanksgiving. A white pumpkin works great for this, but you can use any color. Just use a Sharpie to write on it the things that make you feel grateful.
“Everyone loved adding to the pumpkin each day,” says Schisler. “It really encouraged us to look for every little opportunity to be thankful.”
4. Ice bucket
Leftover pumpkins with a dual purpose? We’ll drink to that! Keep your wine or cider chilled with this charming pumpkin ice bucket. The Wine Cellar Group, in Walpole, MA, created this as part of its DIY series.
“This is a perfect fall decoration, plus it’s functional. We suggest using it to chill wine, of course. But you could also fill it with anything that needs to be chilled,” says Gina Martirano of the group.
5. Feed for rescue animals
Adorable barnyard animals are fun to watch on any day, but give them a pumpkin to eat, and we could watch them happily munch for hours.
Rescue pigs Vess and Dudley are living their best life at the Forget Me Not Animal Sanctuary in Las Vegas, as they enjoy leftover pumpkins. Sanctuary founder Kierra M. Johnson says chickens, cows, horses, goats, and sheep are just some of the animals that love this seasonal treat.
Contact your local sanctuary or shelter to see if it accepts pumpkin donations.
6. Autumn centerpiece
We’ve seen hollowed-out pumpkins filled with flowers, but Elise Franklin of Fleur Elise Floristry in Chelmsford, in the United Kingdom, uses the pumpkin top to create a “spilling out” effect.
To get the look, carve a hole from the top of the pumpkin to make a lid and remove the seeds and guts. Line the pumpkin’s interior with cellophane to create a waterproof lining. Cut a chunk of floral foam to fit the inside. Make sure the foam extends a couple of inches higher than the pumpkin. Submerge the foam in water for a few minutes, and then place it in the pumpkin. This will help keep the flowers fresh. Stick the stems of the flowers and foliage on the edges of the foam only, to give it the spilling out effect. Finally, break four kebab sticks in half. Push four pointy ends into the pumpkin top’s underside, and the four flat ends into the foam. This keeps the top slightly suspended, allowing the flowers and foliage to spill out.
7. Gourmet treat of roasted pumpkin seeds
If you need motivation to dig through slimy and stringy pumpkin guts, this recipe for chile-lime-roasted pumpkin seeds should do it. These gourmet seeds go beyond the traditional salted and roasted seeds of our youth—and they’re healthy.
Nichole Dandrea, a registered dietitian nutritionist, says a handful (about an ounce) of pumpkin seeds has around 5 grams of fiber and 7 grams of protein—plus vitamins and healthy fats. She created this recipe using just four ingredients you probably have in your pantry: chile powder, garlic powder, salt, and lime juice.
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Whether it’s pumpkin, acorn, or butternut, you don’t have to throw out those tasty, crunchy and nutritious seeds! Packed with zinc for immunity, healing fats for brain and skin health, protein for pretty much all body functions and magnesium for and bones. (And that’s just getting started!) 🎃 Chili Lime Roasted Pumpkin Seeds 🍁 Pumpkin Seeds 🍂 1-2 cups pumpkin seeds, rinsed (see instructions) 🍂 2-3 cups water 🍂 3/4 tsp salt (for the boiling water) Spice Mix 🍂 1 1/2 tsp chili powder 🍂1/4 tsp garlic powder 🍂1/8 tsp salt 🍂2 Tbsps lime juice 1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. 2. Using a spoon, scoop the seeds from the pumpkin and place in a colander. Rinse under cold water, removing any flesh from the seeds with your hands. You should have 1-2 cups of clean pumpkin seeds available depending on the size of the pumpkin. 3. Boil 2-3 cups of water in a medium-size stovetop pot (enough to cover the pumpkin seeds. Add the pumpkin seeds and 3/4 tsp salt. 4. Simmer for 5 minutes. 5. Drain and rinse the pumpkin seeds. 6. Place the seeds in a clean towel, patting them dry and removing as much moisture as possible. 7. In a medium-size bowl, add the chili powder, garlic, salt and lime juice. Mix well. 8. Add the dry pumpkin seeds, stirring with a spoon or spatula until they’re coated with the chili lime mixture (if all of the mixture didn’t stick, you can scoop it on top of the seeds once you lay seeds on the baking sheet. 9. Lay the pumpkin seeds evenly on the parchment-lined baking sheet and baking for 25-40 minutes, tossing halfway through for even roasting. (The time will depend on the size of the seeds (small seeds will take less time) and your oven temperature since temperatures can vary depending on the oven.) 10. Remove from the oven and let cook before snacking or tossing on salads! 🌱spices inspired by @glueandglitter chili lime cashews and @lisamariewrites4food thanks for asking about these treats for @realtordotcom 🤗
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8. Glitzy and glamorous tablescape
“Christmas is all about glitz and candlelight,” says Marielle Shortell, co-founder of housewares rental service Hestia Harlow in North Bethesda, MD. She loves the elegant pumpkin tablescape from Lombard and Fifth.
Don’t forget to paint the stem for a truly glamorous look.
9. Elegant holiday decor
“Chinoiserie ginger jars are really beautiful and popular,” says Shortell. She suggests painting the pumpkins to match your home decor, but if your painting skills haven’t improved since kindergarten, use leftover wallpaper from other projects or fabric scraps, and decoupage them to coordinate with your decor.
“This could also be a unique Hanukkah tablescape,” Shortell adds.
10. Pumpkin snowman
A snowman in the Sunshine State? Not a snowball’s chance in hell, residents would say. Yet Jenn Harris wasn’t about to miss out on making a snowman.
She created her snowman from leftover Halloween pumpkins, spray-painting them white and attaching them together with hot glue. She glued on buttons, drew on a cute face, and even repurposed the pumpkin stem for a nose.
“I used them as table and outside decorations during the fall, and I didn’t want to get rid of them as they still looked great when December came,” she says.
11. Pumpkin Rudolph
If you’re looking for a way to get on Santa’s nice list, use your pumpkin to decorate for Halloween, Thanksgiving, and Christmas.
“We had decorated with several pumpkins and after Thanksgiving, they were still perfect and I couldn’t just throw them away,” says Kali Mooneyhan.
All it took to bring this kid-friendly idea to life was some paint, a Christmas ball for the nose, some ribbon, and two sticks for the antlers.