The only thing sadder than a sunken, desiccated, mould-covered Jack-O-Lantern on your front step is one in your trash can. Even if you don’t have a compost pile in your backyard, there’s just no good reason to send your castoff Halloween decorations to the landfill — you can put them to good use in other ways. Here’s how to give your unwanted gourds a rich second life.
First things first: Remove (and save) the seeds
Pumpkin seeds are more than a tasty snack: They’re where more pumpkins come from. Most eco-friendly disposal options involve leaving your old pumpkins out in the elements, where exposed seeds can sprout and take root. Unless you want a dozen (or a hundred) surprise plants in a few months, scoop those seeds out, clean off the stringy flesh, and spread them out to dry. From there, you can toast them in the oven with olive oil and salt, leave them out for birds, turn them into dairy-free milk, or use them to grow some pumpkins of your own — but, like, intentionally.
Leave pumpkins out for wildlife
The easiest thing to do with mushy pumpkins is let nature take its course. If you have a yard and some unpainted gourds to dispose of, just leave them out where raccoons, squirrels, birds, and insects can find them. (Don’t try this with painted pumpkins; the paint could be toxic to animals.) Smaller pumpkins can go out as-is, while the larger ones should be broken up into smaller pieces so critters can easily make off with them. It won’t be long before the scraps have totally disappeared.
Donate them (yes, really)
If your Jack-O-Lanterns aren’t quite in the “liquid goo” phase of decomposition — or you happen to have intact decorative gourds lying around — you may be able to donate them. Farms and community gardens can use them for compost, while zoos and animal shelters use them as a fun treat-slash-activity. Smashing pumpkins and other gourds to smithereens is kind of like nature’s puzzle feeder: The animals get a healthy, delicious snack and a mental workout. (For a good time, just watch these elephants from the Oregon Zoo tromp around on enormous pumpkins in the annual “Squishing of the Squash.”)
Some places don’t accept gourd donations, but it’s more common than you think — especially in October and November. Just be sure to confirm your donation over phone or email before you roll up with a trunk full of rapidly softening pumpkins.
Sometimes, a pumpkin is just too far gone to be put to good use anywhere but the compost heap. If you already have one of those, you can chop up your (seeded) Jack-O-Lanterns and dump them right in. But if you don’t, you can compost the old-fashioned way: Bury it in the yard.
Burying food waste — also called “in-place composting” — is an easy, convenient way to give nutrients back to the soil. According to the Oregon State University extension program, all you have to do is “bury organic material at least 12 inches deep in garden soil, rotating locations.” (The soil depth is important: You don’t want raccoons or other animals to catch the scent and dig it all up.) Chopping your pumpkins up into smaller pieces will help them decompose faster, so if that’s a plus, go for it. Otherwise, you can literally put your mouldy pumpkins in a hole in the ground — and your garden will be all the happier for it.