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'Gourd-geous': Tips for making the most out of your fall pumpkins'Gourd-geous': Tips for making the most out of your fall pumpkins

Nothing symbolizes fall better than the pumpkin.

Jennifer M. Latzke

October 26, 2023

3 Min Read
Gray pumpkins with purple mums
PUMPKIN POWER: Make the most of your fall pumpkins, from start to finish. Jennifer M. Latzke

You got the kids dressed in their fall duds and fought weekend traffic to the pumpkin patch. You took the pictures, pored over acres of pumpkins, settled sibling squabbles, and brought home your fall pumpkins.

Now what?

Kansas State University Research and Extension has some tips for how you can make the most of your fall pumpkin decorations.

Give it a thump

K-State horticulture expert Cynthia Domenghini says the first key to a pumpkin’s longevity in your fall display is to make sure it is harvested at the right maturity. She advises pumpkin pickers to gently press a thumbnail into the rind — if it’s squishy, it will rot more quickly. Look for a hard rind, and give it a thump. You want to hear a hollow sound, she says.

“Harvested pumpkins last longer if they are kept cool, which isn’t always a possibility when displayed outdoors during our extended summer weather days,” Domenghini says.

Pumpkins that are harvested at the peak of their maturity will have a waxy coating that naturally protects them from drying out. If you’re worried that your jack-o’-lantern needs to have an extended porch life, you could use a spray wax to extend it, she adds. But still, carving a pumpkin, while a favorite holiday tradition, does shorten the pumpkin’s shelf life to just a few days — maybe a week — before it starts to rot.

You can preserve carved pumpkins with these steps:

  1. Clean the inside thoroughly of all seeds and loose string. Use a hand mixer to help you really clean that pumpkin out quickly and easily.

  2. Soak the inside of the pumpkin. with a solution of 10% bleach-water for several hours before you carve it. This will kill any bacteria that could start the rotting process.

  3. Use a battery candle instead of a real candle. Not only is it less of a fire hazard, but the heat produced by a real candle will speed up the rotting process.

  4. Watch the weather forecasts. Pumpkins have a high water concentration, which makes them susceptible to freezes, Domenghini says.

End of the trail

Of course, pumpkins can’t last forever. Adaven Scronce, Wildcat Extension District Diversified Agriculture and Natural Resource Agent, gave tips for how you might recycle your pumpkins when you’re ready.

The easiest method is to feed your pumpkins to livestock or poultry. It’s critical, though, that you only feed animals pumpkins that haven’t been soaked in bleach, contain candle wax, were painted, or otherwise altered for decorating, he says. You want to make sure your pumpkins are free from any substances that could be toxic for livestock and poultry to consume.

And, while pumpkin seeds are safe for livestock to eat, they have a compound called cucurbitacin that makes them taste bitter to livestock. Additionally, if your livestock have never eaten whole pumpkins, you may have to break them open for the animals; otherwise, they’ll either ignore them or play with them, Scronce says.

“For larger livestock that have the ability to break open the pumpkin themselves, the pumpkins can be given to them whole or cut into smaller pieces before feeding,” he says. You may also consider baking the pumpkin at 400 degrees F for 30 minutes to an hour to soften it up for picky livestock. This also makes it easier to cut it into smaller pieces for sheep, goats, and chickens, he said.

Take it easy, though, Scronce warns. Pumpkins are packed with water and fiber, as well as being great sources of vitamins A and E and folate. They can be a supplemental protein for livestock, too. But, if pumpkin is not part of your livestock’s regular diet, it may upset their digestive systems.

The trick is to treat these pumpkins like a fall treat for your livestock.

Source: Kansas State Research and Extension News Service contributed to this article.

About the Author(s)

Jennifer M. Latzke

Editor, Kansas Farmer

Through all her travels, Jennifer M. Latzke knows that there is no place like Kansas.

Jennifer grew up on her family’s multigenerational registered Angus seedstock ranch and diversified farm just north of Woodbine, Kan., about 30 minutes south of Junction City on the edge of the Kansas Flint Hills. Rock Springs Ranch State 4-H Center was in her family’s backyard.

While at Kansas State University, Jennifer was a member of the Sigma Kappa Sorority and a national officer for the Agricultural Communicators of Tomorrow. She graduated in May 2000 with a bachelor’s degree in agricultural communications and a minor in animal science. In August 2000 Jennifer started her 20-year agricultural writing career in Dodge City, Kan., on the far southwest corner of the state.

She’s traveled across the U.S. writing on wheat, sorghum, corn, cotton, dairy and beef stories as well as breaking news and policy at the local, state and national levels. Latzke has traveled across Mexico and South America with the U.S. Wheat Associates and toured Vietnam as a member of KARL Class X. She’s traveled to Argentina as one of 10 IFAJ-Alltech Young Leaders in Agricultural Journalism. And she was part of a delegation of AAEA: The Ag Communicators Network members invited to Cuba.

Jennifer’s an award-winning writer, columnist, and podcaster, recognized by the Kansas Professional Communicators, Kansas Press Association, the National Federation of Presswomen, Livestock Publications Council, and AAEA. In 2019, Jennifer reached the pinnacle of achievements, earning the title of “Writer of Merit” from AAEA.

Trips and accolades are lovely, but Jennifer says she is happiest on the road talking to farmers and ranchers and gathering stories and photos to share with readers.

“It’s an honor and a great responsibility to be able to tell someone’s story and bring them recognition for their work on the land,” Jennifer says. “But my role is also evolving to help our more urban neighbors understand the issues our Kansas farmers face in bringing the food and fiber to their store shelves.”

She spends her time gardening, crafting, watching K-State football, and cheering on her nephews and niece in their 4-H projects. She can be found on Twitter at @Latzke.

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