The leaves have begun to fall, the nights are getting longer and the temperature has dropped a few degrees. Fall is fast approaching, bringing with it some firm favourites like baggy jumpers, the start of the football season and of course, pumpkin everywhere you turn.
We just can’t get enough of pumpkins in fall, having pumpkin spice in your coffee, pumpkin pie for Thanksgiving or carving pumpkins ready for Halloween, America goes crazy for the big round gourd.
The problem is, once the festivities are over we are left with the husks of our Jack-O-Lanterns often wondering what to do with them. Can we just leave them to rot on the drive? Can we compost the leftover pumpkin from our pies?
Well, we are here to answer all those questions for you!
How long do pumpkins take to decompose naturally?
What makes pumpkins great for carving is that thick outer skin that helps the fruit keep its rigid shape. The skin also protects the inside of the pumpkin from the elements and intruders and stops it from rotting as quickly as other fruits.
An uncarved pumpkin will last between two and three months before it starts to rot. This is assuming that it is picked when ripe and doesn’t have any disease or holes from critters that can speed up the decomposition process.
The temperature will affect the decomposition time of a pumpkin as colder temperatures will soften the skin and allow decomposition to happen faster.
The general advice for pumpkin growers is to bring them inside before the first frost so that they have the longest possible lifespan.
How long do pumpkins take to decompose once cut or carved?
Once you’ve carved or cut your pumpkin, you have about three to five days before the rot sets in. This is because you have exposed the softer inner flesh to bacteria and the elements.
There are plenty of tips and tricks out there that can help you preserve the life of your jack-o-lantern if you want it to last for the whole of the spooky season.
These tips generally advise you to dry out the interior of your pumpkin and use something like vaseline or lemon water as a barrier between the air and cut edges. This is because moisture is what really speeds up the decomposition process.
If you live in a colder area, you may get a week or two out of your jack-o-lantern before it starts to shrivel and collapse because colder temperatures slow bacteria growth. Those living in warm, humid areas will find their pumpkin rots in no time at all.
Can you compost pumpkins?
Yes, you can! And what’s more the process can be a lot of fun! The general rule of composting is that the larger the area exposed during composting, the faster and more effectively the material will break down.
For pumpkins, this means cutting them up into smaller pieces, or, for more fun and festivity, smashing them!
Using a hammer or the back of a spade to smash the pumpkin into mush is a great way to relieve some of the holiday stress and get the kids involved in composting too.
If you are using a compost bin, we recommend smashing the pumpkins on an old tarp to save on clean up.
If you are going to use a compost pit or trench, you can put a layer of vegetable leaves and other compostable materials in the bottom of your pumpkin grave and then place the pumpkin on top before smashing it up.
Once you’ve added your pumpkin to your bin or trench you will need to add a little soil and a layer of brown compost like sawdust or leaves. Pumpkins count as gree composting material because of their high nitrogen content.
Don’t forget to remove the seeds from your pumpkin before composting, especially if you are cold composting. If you leave the seeds in you might find yourself overrun with pumpkins next year!
The flesh of your pumpkin will decompose quite quickly within a few days but the harder skin will take a few. Depending on your composting method, you may need to turn your compost pile every so often to make sure everything is mixing and composting as it should.
Your pumpkin compost will be a lovely, nutrient rich treat for your plants and garden over the winter months and should give them the boost they need to flourish come spring time.
Community composting schemes
Our pumpkin obsession sees more than a billion pounds of pumpkin thrown in landfills during the fall. These pumpkins not only contribute to the astronomical amount of food waste produced every year, but they also produce methane gas which is a far more deadly greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide.
Composting your pumpkin is a perfect way to reduce waste and your impact on the planet but if you don’t have a compost bin or pile what can you do?
Luckily, for a number of years, communities have been organizing pumpkin collections and pumpkin smashing events to combat the high numbers of pumpkins going to landfills.
Be sure to check your local area for groups offering to collect pumpkins that will then be used in compost or even pig rescues as fodder!
Pumpkin smashing events are unbelievably fun and a great way to spend a fall day with the family. In Tuscon, Arizona you can launch your pumpkin through the air by a slingshot.
In other states, pumpkins are used for batting practice or thrown across fields. The shattered, mushy remains are collected by volunteers and used in the community or state composts.
In Elgin, Illinois pumpkin smashing festivities have taken place for four years and have saved tonnes of pumpkins from ending up in landfills.
As a result of their efforts, thousands of pumpkins have essentially gone to work for the state putting nutrients and water back into Illinois soil.