10 Ways to Recycle a Jack O’ Lantern

It’s the day after Halloween. No sign of the Great Pumpkin yet again, and I’m doing my best to resist the 4 huge buckets of candy in the kitchen. Mmmm….Snickers….

The other sign that Halloween has passed us by is the sight of dozens of carved, soggy, perhaps squirrel-chewed Jack O’ Lanterns sitting on the curb. Much like my obsession with leaves, I confess to wanting to give people who throw pumpkins away a good talking-to. Nearly half of all U.S. households carve a pumpkin every year (at least one!) That’s a lot of waste if even some of us just toss them in the garbage. So rather than raving like a lunatic, I’ll post some constructive ideas here, instead.

10 Ideas for Recycling Your Jack O’Lantern

  1. Chop them up (I just use a shovel) and toss them in your compost bin.
  2. If you like squirrels, leave the pumpkin out and let the squirrels devour it.
  3. If you have a worm bin, cut your Jack O’Lantern into smaller pieces and give it to the worms. They LOVE pumpkin, in my experience.
  4. Via my About.com colleague Melissa Mayntz, cut it in half and use it as a bird feeder.
  5. Chop ’em up a little and place them at the bottom of a lasagna garden or new raised bed. (I think just about every raised bed in my garden was started on a foundation of old Jack O’Lanterns and fall leaves.)
  6. If your Jack O’ Lantern is still pretty fresh (not moldy, soft, or smelly – meaning you just carved it in the last day or so) you can turn what’s left into pumpkin puree. Just remove any soft spots, wax or soot from candles. {You can also turn your puree into pumpkin butter — yum!}
  7. Pamper yourself with a pumpkin puree pedicure.
  8. Puree the flesh, and make your own pumpkin body moisturizer.
  9. Bury it. If you’re not starting a new garden bed, you can dig a hole in an existing bed (perhaps you’re planting some trees, shrubs, or perennials anyway?) and place pieces of the pumpkin in the bottom. Instant boost of nitrogen and organic matter!
  10. Science experiment. If you have curious kids, just let the Jack O’ Lantern sit in your yard for as long as you can stand it. Let them note all of the fun, gross things that happen to a pumpkin as it decays: the mold, the sogginess, the eventual collapse into itself. If you think ahead and happen to set your Jack O’ Lantern on top of your compost pile, you won’t have any slimy clean-up to do afterwards!

So, no more Jack O’ Lanterns on the curb after Halloween, right? Right.

Garden Tip: Make Your Own Seed Tape

Soon, we Michigan gardeners will be stuck indoors, staring forlornly out at our snow or frost-covered gardens. While I’m not in a hurry for that, I know that there are several ways I can keep myself busy, and get my garden off to a good start next spring. One of those ways is to make seed tape. An afternoon or two of work during the winter, and I’ll have perfect, evenly-spaced seeds ready to plant once the time is right.


* Newspaper (black and white, plain newspaper pages) cut into 1 to 1 1/2 inch strips, paper towel, or toilet paper
* Flour
* Water
* Seeds
* Ruler

How To Make Seed Tape

1. Make a paste out of flour and water. Start with 1/4 cup of flour, and add water until you have a paste-like consistency. it should easily coat a spoon, not just drip off.

2. Check the instructions on the back of your seed packet (or at the end of this post) to see how far to space seeds apart. Use the ruler, and write marks on your strips of newspaper at the correct intervals.

3. Dab a bit of flour paste onto the marks you wrote.

4. Place a seed (or two, if you’re concerned about whether they’ll germinate or not) into each dab of flour glue.

5. Write the name of the variety on each strip of newspaper.

6. Wait for the flour glue to dry completely, then store your seed tapes in an airtight container, preferably in a cool place until it’s time to plant. The refrigerator works well, as does an unheated garage.

When it’s time to plant, simply place your seed tape in the garden, and cover with soil, 1/4 to 1/2 inch deep, depending on what type of seed you’re planting. Water in well, keep it moist, and wait for those first sprouts to show up.
Seed Spacing for Common Herbs, and Vegetables

Space your seeds on the seed tape according to the following general recommendations. You can also find this information on your seed packet.

* Basil: 4 inches
* Chives: 6 inches
* Cilantro: 6 inches
* Dill: 12 inches
* Mint: 12 inches
* Oregano: 6 inches
* Parsley: 6 inches
* Sage: 12 inches
* Thyme: 8 inches

These are small-seeded vegetables that are commonly sown directly in the garden.

* Arugula: 4 inches
* Asian greens (bok choy, tatsoi, mizuna): 4 inches
* Beets: 3 inches
* Carrots: 3 inches
* Collards: 6 inches
* Kale: 6 inches
* Lettuce: 6 inches
* Mustard greens: 6 inches
* Radishes: 2 inches
* Rapini: 6 inches
* Spinach: 4 inches
* Swiss chard: 6 inches

Seed tapes are an easy way to get your garden planted. Even better, you can make these seed tapes during the winter and early spring, while you’re waiting to get out into your garden. They’re also a great project to do with kids.

I originally wrote this post for Planet Green, and wanted to share the info with my readers here at Gardening in the Mitten. You can view the original post here.

All through October, I’ll be sharing some of my favorite gardening tips. To check out other “31 Days of…” bloggers, check out this post.

Make a New Garden Bed: No Digging Required!

Fall is when I add new beds to my garden, or expand my existing beds. If we’re planning a new raised vegetable bed, we usually build the frames in fall, fill them with leaves and fruit/veggie scraps, and let them sit over the winter, then fill them up the rest of the way with good quality soil and composted manure in the spring.

But if I’m planning to add a regular (non-raised) bed, my method is even easier. Here it is:

1. Figure out the size/shape of your new bed. You can measure it out with stakes and string, use a hose to get the shape perfect, or just eyeball it (this is usually what I do.)
2. Grab several sections of newspaper, or a few flatted corrugated cardboard boxes.
3. Lay the newspaper (a section or at least 4 to 5 pages thick) or the cardboard down where you want your bed to be. Overlap the sections of newspaper or cardboard by a few inches.
4. Yes. Just lay them right on the grass. Really.
5. Go rake some leaves and/or mow the lawn. Dump leaves or grass (or both!) right on top of the newspaper.
6. If you want to neaten it up and avoid having leaves blow all over the place, get some shredded bark mulch and put a good layer of that over the top of the leaves/grass.
7. Done.

OK, you’re not really done. Now you sit inside your house, comfy and cozy all winter. And while you’re doing that, the grass under your pile ‘o newspaper and leaves dies. And the leaves start breaking down into leaf mold, which the worms will start tunneling up through your newspaper to devour. And then they’ll tunnel back into your soil and poop. And then you end up with really great soil, and, in the spring, you can plant in this beautiful, crumbly soil that you didn’t even work up a sweat to create.

Lazy is good!

Gardening Tip: Using Eggshells in Your Garden

Every Sunday, I make a great big breakfast that results in the entire family being pleasantly stuffed and ready to take on a full day of gardening and (in fall) football-watching. Because we have a big family, we go through a dozen eggs every Sunday. Happily, there are several great ways to put all of those eggshells to use in the garden.

How to Use Eggshells in the Garden

1. Compost them. Rinse them out (or not. I rarely bother with rinsing mine), crush them up, and toss them in your compost bin.

2. Add to planting holes. Crops that are prone to blossom end rot, such as tomatoes and eggplants, appreciate a little extra calcium in the soil. Simply crush and sprinkle a few eggshells into each hole at planting time.

3. Deter slugs and snails. This tip is hit-or-miss for some people, but it’s worth a try if your lettuce or hostas have become a snack bar for these slimy buggers. Crush up a few eggshells and sprinkle them on the surface of the soil around any plants you’re trying to protect. The sharp edges will (hopefully) irritate the underside of the slugs or snails when they try to slide over them, and they’ll stay away.

4. Seed starting pots. If you are careful about cracking your eggs, and only crack up the top part, you can save the bottom, intact part of the eggshell and use it as a pot for planting seeds. Simply fill it with seed starting mix, plant your seeds, and watch them grow (you may want to try to poke a hole or two in the bottom of your shell to ensure adequate drainage). Best of all, once it’s time to plant, simply plant the whole thing, egg shell and all.

I hope these tips have you looking at eggshells in a new way — they are so useful in the garden!

All through October, I’ll be sharing some of my favorite gardening tips. To check out other “31 Days of…” bloggers, check out this post.

Garden Tip: Direct Sow Perennial Seeds in Fall


Most of us are familiar with the idea of direct sowing annuals such as marigolds and sunflowers. But did you know that you can also direct sow perennials in your garden?

The best time to direct sow perennial seeds in your garden is in fall. Many of these seeds need a period of cold weather followed by warm before they’ll germinate (this is called “cold stratification.”) Here in Michigan, planting your perennial seeds in your garden now (October is a great time to direct sow perennials) will result in lots of new little perennial seedlings popping up next spring!

To direct sow your perennial seeds, simply follow the instructions for seed spacing and depth on your seed packet. Try to mark where you planted them in the garden, so you don’t mistake your baby perennials as weeds next spring.

Some great options for fall direct sowing include:
Purple coneflower (Echinacea purpurea)
Black eyed Susan (Rudbeckia)
Milkweed (Asclepias)
Columbine (Aquilegia)
Bee balm (Monarda)
Foxglove (Digitalis)
Globe Thistle (Echinops)
Pinks (Dianthus)
Shasta daisy

All through October, I’ll be sharing some of my favorite gardening tips. To check out other “31 Days of…” bloggers, check out this post.

Garden Tip: Hoard Your Autumn Leaves!

I have a slight obsession (that’s like being “a little bit pregnant,” isn’t it?) with autumn leaves. They’re beautiful, of course. Fall is my favorite season, in large part due to the fact that looking out my window and seeing the trees ablaze in orange, yellow, and red just makes me happy.


But even more, fall leaves are just so darn useful. And FREE. I watch my neighbors rake their leaves into the street for pickup, and I just can’t understand why you would throw away something so useful. Here are a few things I do with autumn leaves:

1. Use them for mulch.
2. Make a lasagna garden.
3. Make leaf mold.
4. Fill a new raised bed with them. In spring, simply fill the bed the rest of the way with soil and composted manure, and mix well — this gives you absolutely beautiful soil. You can also add them to an existing garden bed and mix or till them in to improve your soil.
5. Keep some on hand to add as “browns” to your compost pile.

In general, it’s best to chop your leaves if you can. We have a leaf vac that shreds them as it sucks the leaves up, and it’s super convenient. Before we had the leaf vac, we’d rake the leaves into piles and run over the piles a few times with a lawnmower. I’ve also heard people say that they add the leaves to a garbage can, then use their weed whacker like a giant immersion blender to chop them up right in the can. Use whatever method works for you!

To save leaves to add to your compost pile throughout the year, simply store your chopped leaves in a clean garbage can, plastic storage bin, or sealed garbage bag. Then it’s easy to grab a handful or two whenever you need to add leaves to your compost bin.

Fall leaves are a great, FREE way to improve your soil. Start hoarding them!

All through October, I’ll be sharing some of my favorite gardening tips. To check out other “31 Days of…” bloggers, check out this post.