5 Easy Ways to Green Your Jack-O-Lantern

There's more to fear on Halloween than the ghosts and goblins haunting the streets. The number of jack-o-lanterns that end up in the landfill after the trick-or-treating ends is also frightful. And more than 1 billion pounds of pumpkins are grown every year in America, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

But it's easy to green your jack-o-lantern and reduce the environmental impact of your Halloween fun. Here are five ways to make everything about your pumpkin more eco-friendly.

1. Opt for an organic pumpkin

Like other crops, pumpkins are often treated with chemicals to ward off pests and diseases. Two of the most common chemicals applied to pumpkins, clomazone and ethalfluralin, are harmful to wildlife and leach into soil and groundwater, notes Craig Minowa, environmental scientist with the Organic Consumers Association. Even if you’re not planning to eat your jack-o-lantern, Minowa advises buying an organic pumpkin.

“Organic pumpkins are a more expensive and a little harder to find, but they’re the best choice for the environment,” Minowa says.

To find an organic pumpkin patch, check the Organic Consumers Association's state-by-state directory of organic farmers. Minowa also suggests skipping the pumpkins sold at supermarkets and big-box retailers in favor of buying local from farms, farmer's markets, roadside stands and food co-ops where organic pumpkins are more readily available. To find out what’s harvested seasonally in your area, check Local Harvest's directory of farmers’ markets, and check seasonal produce guides.

2. Discover the inner pumpkin — cook up something yummy before carving

If you make your jack-o-lanterns from smaller baking pumpkins rather than the big guys, you can get a two-fer out of each one (delicious goodies and pumpkin carving).The sweet flesh that gets scooped out of the pumpkin before it gets carved into a jack-o-lantern can be used to make soup, bread, cookies and cakes. Fresh pumpkin is high in vitamin C and beta-carotene and has zero cholesterol — all for just 15 calories per ½ cup. And turning scooped-out pumpkin flesh into a moist loaf of pumpkin bread is simple; just follow this recipe:

Pumpkin Bread

Ingredients

2 cups flour
2 tsp. cinnamon
1 tsp. baking soda
¼ tsp. baking powder
½ tsp. salt
1½ cups sugar
¾ cup vegetable oil
3 large eggs
1 tsp. vanilla extract
3 cups shredded fresh pumpkin

Directions

Preheat oven to 325 F. Sift the flour, cinnamon, baking soda, baking powder and salt into a large bowl. In a separate bowl, mix the sugar, vegetable oil, eggs and vanilla. Combine both mixtures and add in shredded pumpkin. Pour mixture into a nonstick loaf pan. Bake for 75 minutes. Let cool, then slice and serve.

3. Make pumpkin seeds into a tasty snack (for you or for the birds)

Don't toss those pumpkin seeds! They make a nutritious fall snack — the shells are edible and are a good source of fiber. Making roasted pumpkin seeds (sometimes called pepitas) is super-simple, and you can salt or spice them any way you like.

  • After you’ve scooped the seeds from the pumpkin, rinse them and use your fingers to remove all the pulp. Drain the seeds and set them out on paper towels to dry overnight.
  • Preheat oven to 250 F.
  • Toss seeds in olive oil or butter, or spray with cooking spray. Sprinkle with salt, garlic powder, onion powder, seasoned salt, cayenne pepper or other seasonings you like, and toss to coat. Or, if you like your pumpkin seeds simply salty through-and-through, soak them overnight in a mixture of 1/4 cup salt and 2 cups water, then dry them an additional day.
  • Spread seeds in a single layer on a baking sheet. Bake 1 hour, tossing every 15 to 20 minutes until golden brown.
  • The seeds are ready to eat when cool. Store in an airtight container at room temperature up to 3 months or refrigerate up to 1 year.

Think pumpkin seeds are for the birds? Make bird feed! Simply let your pumpkin seeds air-dry and add them to your birdfeeder. Birds like nuthatches and grosbeaks will appreciate the healthy feast. “Just remember that seeds fed to birds shouldn’t be salted,” says Rob Fergus, senior scientist with the National Audubon Society.

Fergus warns against leaving the remains of your entire jack-o-lantern out for the birds. “The pumpkin flesh will attract wildlife that could prey on visiting birds,” he points out.

4. Donate your jack-o-lantern

Who would want a used jack-o-lantern after Halloween? Your local zoo just might. Fresh pumpkin is a healthy seasonal treat for animals like elephants, red pandas and mongooses. Numerous zoos across the country, including the Oakland Zoo, Denver Zoo and St. Louis Zoo, will gladly accept pumpkin donations. Call ahead to see if the zoo in your area accepts pumpkins for their animals.

5. Compost your pumpkin

No sense tossing "Jack" in the garbage. Instead, cut your spent jack-o-lantern or scooped-out pumpkin into chunks and add it to your compost bin in your backyard. Pumpkins (and all sorts of other kitchen scraps, fallen leaves and other organic waste) break down into nutrient-rich soil that can be added to your garden in the spring. Learn how to make compost at home in this article or watch this How to Make Compost video. Also check out our complete composting guide.

No compost pile? There are plenty of cities that offer municipal composting sites. Go to Earth911.org and enter your zip code to find a composting program near you.


Jodi Helmer is the author of The Green Year: 365 Small Things You Can Do to Make a Big Difference (Alpha, 2008). Visit her online at www.green-year.com.

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