Everybody loves Halloween pumpkins. Grinning, ghoulish jack-o’-lanterns are a common sight come October, as people show off their Halloween spirit by carving pumpkins that adorn porches and steps outside their homes.
But what happens after the holiday is over? Can these pumpkins simply be tossed in the trash like the wrappers from that delicious Halloween candy?
Well, it depends.
“If they are painted, they should be disposed of in the trash, because even though water-based paints are nontoxic to humans there is some concern they could be toxic to wildlife,” said Environmental Program Manager Adam Schlachter, who works in the Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control’s Division of Waste and Hazardous Substances.
Pumpkins that have not been painted, however, can be disposed of in nature.
“Feed it to the wildlife. So, just throw it out in your backyard or the woods if you have a wood coppice by your yard. It’s a treat. They will eat it,” Schlachter said.
Some people have been bleaching their pumpkins to rid them of bacteria and fungi. However, doing so can be harmful to wildlife, so Schlachter recommended using a mix of one part vinegar and 10 parts water to get the same effect.
Non-painted pumpkins can also be composted. If you want to do that, remove the seeds and break the pumpkin into smaller pieces first, then mix it in with the rest of your compost pile. Two to three months, it will have decomposed.
Note that if you get rid of the pumpkin with the seeds still inside, you may find pumpkins growing in the wild a few months later (although that might be a positive for you rather than a drawback). At any rate, by doing so you’d be missing out on the tastiest part of the pumpkin, so we recommend roasting the seeds rather than throwing them out.
Though it probably goes without saying, it’s worth reiterating that any candles or other decorations you have inside or on your pumpkins should be removed before surrendering them to nature. And as obvious as it may seem, Schlachter noted there are still people who try to toss fake pumpkins into the woods. That’s simply littering — a no-no.
Overall, just keep in mind that pumpkins make for good snacks for various species of wildlife like deer as long as they aren’t painted. Animals will enjoy this tasty treat — perhaps even before you’re ready for them.
“Don’t be surprised if you put a buffet out on your porch and somebody takes advantage!” Schlachter said.
You can donate to farms pumpkins that are no longer wanted, giving a hog a tasty treat in the process. For a list of farms near you that may accept donated pumpkins, visit pumpkinsforpigs.org/delaware.
To find fresh, locally grown pumpkins, visit delawaregrown.com.
Pumpkins aren’t only good snacks for animals – they also can make tasty treats for humans! Here’s a recipe for roasted pumpkin seeds, courtesy of Delawaregrown.com.
Preheat oven to 350°F.
In a large bowl, add pumpkin seeds, melted butter, cinnamon, nutmeg and salt. Stir to coat.
Spread seasoned pumpkin seeds on a baking sheet.
Roast for 30 minutes or until golden brown.
Store pumpkins at room temperature up to a month or in a refrigerator up to 3 months. Wrap cut pumpkin in plastic and refrigerate up to 5 days.
To prepare pumpkins, wash pumpkin and cut lengthwise. Remove and discard the seeds and excess fiber. Trim skin with a paring knife or peeler if desired. Cook as desired.