The temperature drops, the sun starts going down earlier and the leaves fade from green to brilliant hues of red, orange and yellow. It’s finally fall and I love everything about it.
The way it feels kind of sleepy and turns lazy Sundays into an activity with my daughter. Escaping the crisp air and earlier nights, we make couch forts and watch movies.
The way it refreshes my wardrobe. Breaking out sweaters, boots and jeans, it’s like rediscovering a whole world of clothes I forgot existed last spring.
The way it ushers in an eerie tone as Halloween approaches. Suddenly, it’s time for costumes, candy and of course pumpkin carving.
Pumpkin carving is probably my daughter’s favorite fall activity. From picking the perfect one to scraping out the guts and drawing a creepy face for mom to cut out, she loves it all.
I have to admit it’s even become one of my favorite activities again. Every year the stakes seem to get higher. How creepy can we make it? Can we paint it after we cut it? What about using glitter mom? Can we make earrings for it?
After putting in all that effort it’d at least be nice to enjoy our masterpiece for more than a few days. However, just as the season fades quickly, so do the illuminated faces that mark it.
While there’s no way to stall the fleeting nature of autumn, there are ways to prolong the life of its signature spooky, goofy, friendly and foreboding smiles.
The freshness of the pumpkin you bring home is one of the biggest factors determining how long your Jack O’Lantern will last.
When Tater and I are ready to hit the pumpkin patch to find the canvases for our creepy creations we try not to get overwhelmed by the options. A large selection is a good thing, but to make the best choice there are four main factors to consider — color, weight, stem length and skin appearance.
Color: pumpkins with lighter orange skin are easier to carve because the skin is not a hard as the darker orange pumpkins. However, the darker orange pumpkins have tougher skin and will last longer.
Weight: Picking pumpkins that feel heavier than they look is beneficial because it means they have more flesh and thicker skin. Although that means more scooping it also means your pumpkin will dehydrate slower, prolonging its life.
Stem length: You can tell how healthy the pumpkin is by looking at its stem. A strong sturdy stem is a good sign of a healthy pumpkin, whereas a brittle, thin stem that breaks off or no stem at all can indicate that the pumpkin was stressed for water and nutrients. Pumpkins without a stem won’t last long and those with soft stems may have already started to rot.
Skin appearance: It’s important to chose a pumpkin with firm, spot free skin. Soft spots are early signs of rot and holes and cuts will generally rot sooner. However, it’s ok to choose a pumpkin that’s not fully ripe as it will continue to ripen even after it’s harvested.
Once you have picked the perfect pumpkin it’s important to store it in a cool place, so it will last longer.
When you’re ready to carve, wash your pumpkin with warm water and let it dry completely. Likewise, wash all the tools you’re planning on using to limit the transfer of any pre-existing bacteria.
After you cut the top off be sure to remove all of the guts and seeds to reduce the surface area in side where mold can start growing.
Additionally, larger designs with bigger holes seem to deteriorate faster as more of the pumpkin is exposed to the air, encouraging mold growth. It’s also harder for the jack o’lantern to maintain structural integrity with less support.
Once you’ve carved your jack o’lantern and are satisfied, soaking it in bleach water will help prevent mold growth and preserve its firmness. Bleach kills microorganisms that decay the pumpkin, including mold, fungi, and bacteria, while the water hydrates the pumpkin’s flesh.
- 5 gallon bucket or tub
- 4 tsp bleach
- 4 gallons water
First, you want to mix your bleach and water together in the bucket. Next, immerse your entire jack o’lantern in the bleach water. Then let it sit for at least eight hours.
When your jack o’lantern has had ample time to soak, remove it and allow it to air dry completely. After it’s dry you’ll have to spray it with your bleach solution once a day inside and out to prevent the growth of bacteria and mold.
In an experiment conducted by My Science Project, the jack o’lantern treated with bleach water maintained a fresh appearance for eight days. Overall, it lasted 11 days before it had to be tossed.
Visit their page to find out how long other preservation methods lasted.
Struggling for unique carving ideas? Find free templates here:
- The Pumpkin Lady
- Pumpkin Pile
- Stoneykins Pumpkin Patterns
- Spook Master
- Fantasy Pumpkins
- Celebrating Halloween
- Better Homes and Gardens
- Budget 101
- How to pick the perfect pumpkin, gourd or squash
- How to grow pumpkins: 7 tips
- Ask Jen about pumpkins
- Here’s the scoop on cooking and baking with pumpkin
- Pumpkin season: Picking, cooking and preserving fall’s favorite fruit
- Prolong the life of decorative pumpkins, gourds and squash in five simple steps
- Pumpkin decorating ideas for Halloween
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