It’s nearly Halloween and time to carve that pumpkin. Here’s a bit of a refresher course on pumpkin carving and some tips to make your Jack O Lantern spooky and special.
Larger pumpkins are easier to clean out and you want a pumpkin with a sturdy stem for a handle. Pumpkins with longer stems tend to last longer. Don’t buy a pumpkin so big that it’s hard to handle. Lighter colored pumpkins are said to be easier to carve but they will not last as long. Pumpkins don’t change color after they are picked so whatever color your pumpkin is when you buy or pick it, that’s the color it will be when you carve it. Don’t carve your pumpkin too long before you want to display it. Keep it outside in the shade or in a cool spot until you do carve it. Pumpkins should be kept from freezing though. They can turn to mush if they freeze solid.
Wash the pumpkin just before beginning. Carefully cut a round area around the stem. It should be large enough to get your hand inside. The hole can’t be enlarged after you remove the top because the lid will not fit when you are done. If the top does tend to fall inside, add a small piece of cardboard to the back of the lid’s rim held in place with a toothpick. This will wedge it in place.
Clean off the bottom of the “top” and set it aside. After cleaning out the “guts” (save the seeds), scrape the “meat” away down to about one inch thick. A kitchen spoon makes a good cleaning and scraping utensil. Slicing off a spot on the outside of bottom may make the pumpkin sit level. Or stick a toothpick or two in the bottom and adjust them until the pumpkin is level.
You can draw your proposed cuts on the pumpkin with a marker. Some people use patterns that you can buy in craft stores to trace a face on the pumpkin. Use your imagination and be creative. Instead of a face you can carve a scene or a series of stars or other small openings that will glow when lit from inside. Your name or address could also be carved into the pumpkin.
Once you have decided what to carve use a serrated pumpkin carving knife (sold in most stores that carry Halloween decorations), or use a serrated steak knife or any sharp kitchen knife. Be careful that you don’t add real blood to the scary face by cutting yourself. Parents may want to let kids draw a face or design and then cut it out for them.
Pumpkin carving pro’s use these tricks. After cleaning and carving, soak the pumpkin in a mix of 1 teaspoon of bleach to a gallon of water for a few minutes. Use a bucket or the sink. Pat dry inside and out, or dry carefully with a hair dryer, and then coat your carving cuts with a thin layer of petroleum jelly.
Options to carving
Some people opt to paint the pumpkin instead of carve it. Most acrylic craft paints will work and are non-toxic. The pumpkin could be rinsed off after Halloween and used to make pie.
Black duct tape can be used to tape a face on the pumpkin. If you can’t find black duct tape color a darker shade of tape with black marker. Cut the tape into shapes that make a scary or happy face and apply to a dry pumpkin. Note: electrical tape won’t stick to pumpkins.
Another alternative to carving a pumpkin is to pin things like buttons, felt shapes, flowers or seed pods to the pumpkin. You can still find straight pins in the sewing notions section of stores and toothpicks can even be used. Lightly coating the pumpkin with craft glue and dusting it with glitter will get rave reviews from the kids. Kids enjoy this sort of pumpkin decorating almost as much as carving one and there is much less mess.
Lighting your carved creation
Using a battery powered light instead of a candle makes the Jack O Lantern last longer. LED flashlights or lanterns make for a brightly glowing Jack O Lantern. Small twinkling Christmas lights can be stuffed inside a pumpkin, a battery powered string works great. Glow light sticks can be activated and stuffed inside a carved pumpkin. This will give you light for a short time.
If you do use a candle, you can coat the inside of the pumpkin lid with cinnamon, cloves or other spices for a delightfully scented pumpkin. Small pumpkins can be lit with tiny tea lights. Use a long handled lighter to light the candle inside the pumpkin and make sure to keep flammable items away from candle lit pumpkins. Don’t leave pumpkins with candles lit in them unattended.
Use solar lights to light your Jack O Lantern
Want a new, environmentally friendly and safe way to light up your Jack O Lantern? Use solar lights. The simple inexpensive stake type solar light used to light paths is an excellent pumpkin light. The solar light uses no electricity, and is perfectly safe, it won’t start fires or burn anything and because there is no heat with the light the pumpkin stays fresh longer. They turn on automatically when it’s dark and most solar lights will last many hours after a sunny day and will even come on for a while after a not so sunny day.
Measure the top, light collecting part of your solar light and cut the hole in the pumpkin so the light will fit snugly inside the hole with just the top exposed. (You’ll need to clean out the pumpkin “guts” first before you fit the light inside.) If you can’t get your hands inside to clean the pumpkin out with a small hole, you can make the hole bigger, and then use wood skewers or stiff wire across the opening to support the light. Or find a glass jar that supports the stake light with the light top sticking out just above the opening in the pumpkin. On a taller pumpkin the light can be left on its stake but for shorter pumpkins you may have to remove the stake from the light. Carve a face in your pumpkin as usual.
The pumpkin must be sitting in the sun during the day so the solar panel can collect light energy. And most solar lights can’t be entirely inside the pumpkin at night. The sensor turns the light on when it’s dark, so they do come on as darkness falls but they turn off quickly because the light in an enclosed space causes the sensor to turn the light off. The sensor part of the light must be outside the pumpkin, in the dark, at night.
If you don’t have a sunny area to place the pumpkin in there are strings of solar “fairy lights” that can be purchased which have a solar panel connected to the light string that can be placed a short distance from the lights to collect energy. The light string can be coiled inside the pumpkin without harm. Other types of solar lights with remote light collectors are also available but these options are more expensive than the simple solar stake light.
After Halloween remember to compost your pumpkin so it can return nutrients to the soil. You could give the pumpkin to chickens or other animals to eat also. Have a great Halloween.
Here are some additional articles you may want to read.
How to grow cranberries
How to prune spring flowering shrubs
How to plant bulbs
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