After Halloween and the pumpkin party is over, Melanie Pilcher, quality and standards manager at the Alliance, explains how you can enjoy new activities and reduce waste by using up all those pumpkins
Carved pumpkins are a key element of Halloween celebrations. Many families will place a jack-o’-lantern on their doorstep or windowsill overnight to mark the special day. The tradition is now so popular that an estimated 10 million pumpkins were sold in 2018.
But what happens to these pumpkins on 1 November, when all good witches and wizards have packed away their broomsticks and costumes for another year?
There’s a good chance that all those shiny orange pumpkins will sit forlornly on a doorstep or in the front garden or days, maybe even weeks. They will sag, go soggy and most will end up in landfill.
Last year, experts estimated only 5% of pumpkins grown in the UK will be eaten. Halloween pumpkins are often grown for their size and shape, which can result in stringy flesh that’s not always suitable for cooking. The remaining 95% are thrown away as food waste, creating 60-70,000 tonnes of additional waste each year.
Many of these pumpkins will end up in landfill sites where they will eventually break down, producing environment-damaging methane.
But there are a number of more eco-friendly options that you can try with the children.
Save the seeds
There are approximately 500 seeds inside a medium pumpkin. Children will enjoy picking them out of the stringy flesh. Once washed and dried they can used in a number of ways:
- roast them to make a tasty snack
- dry them out and thread them onto necklaces
- create a collage
- add them to musical shakers
- create a pumpkin-seed number line
You could even fundraise with your seeds. Rinse and dry the seeds, making sure you put them on a paper towel and separate them to stop them from sticking together. Once completely dried, place them in a brown paper envelope, which you could ask the children to decorate. Offer them to parents and visitors for a small donation. This could even launch a gardening challenge for next year as you see which family can grow the biggest pumpkin using the seeds.
If you didn’t grow your own pumpkins in the setting this year, add it to your long-term planning to get ready for April 2020.
Save a handful of seeds from this year’s pulp and dry them out ready for planning in the spring.
Pumpkins are easy for children to grow – you can find specific details about when and where to plant them online – and their large leaves and vibrant fruits will be fascinating to watch grow. They need constant watering, offering good lessons for young gardeners.
Children can also watch the carved pumpkins start to decompose. It may not be everyone’s idea of fun, but young children will enjoy seeing the changes in colour, shape and texture.
Try some recipes
Scooping out the flesh of a pumpkin takes a lot of time and effort so don’t waste it by throwing it out. If the flesh is not too stringy there are plenty of recipes to choose from. Pumpkin puree can also be used as the basis for soups, pies or even houmous that will add to children’s healthy diets and use up any leftover flesh.
Create some compost
If your pumpkin flesh is not suitable for cooking, cut it up into small chunks and add it to your own compost bin, if you have one. If you don’t already have one, now is a good time to start. You can build one using old pallets or garden trellis, plastic buckets or even a heavy-duty cardboard box. Have a look online for detailed instructions and of course involve the children.
Chunks of pumpkin can also be added directly to the soil in your garden area. Just dig them in. This is a nice task to warm up your budding gardeners on a chilly winter morning.
Feed the wildlife
Our wildlife visitors are more likely to come into the garden if there is a source of food available to them. Squirrels, moles, mice and deer will all feast on pumpkin. Let the children look for clues to see who may have visit the garden for a snack. Look for teeth marks, or leave a light dusting of flour on a paved area to see if you can get any footprints. If you are lucky enough to have a motion-sensitive night camera, you could review the footage with the children.
Dried pumpkin seeds are also a welcome addition to your bird table, especially when autumn’s bountiful trees and hedgerows start to give way to winter’s bar branches. So keep a few seeds back to add into your regular mix in the winter months.
Check your local area
Some local authorities are helping to reduce landfill waste by offering a collection for post-Halloween pumpkins. In 2018, there were 40 local events offering a scheme to stop pumpkins from being wasted – check if your local authority is running a collection or other recycling event. If not, check the hashtag #PumpkinRescue on social media for more ideas on how to recycle or reuse your pumpkin or you may even consider running your own rescue event at your setting.
However you decide to use this year’s pumpkins, remember that you will be making a big difference to reducing food waste preventing climate change. There are very few food items of such size and weight that are grown to be used for just one night of the year and then discarded. Every small change we make now will gather momentum as the next generation of children plan their future Halloween celebrations.
[This article originally appeared in the October 2019 issue of Under 5 magazine].