MOTHER EARTH NEWS Interns Celebrate Halloween Alternative-Energy Style

Reader Contribution by Jennifer Black
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Pumpkin carving is hard work, but somebody’s got to do it. All three MOTHER EARTH NEWS interns got into the Halloween spirit this week and carved some alternative-energy pumpkins, courtesy of stencils from the U.S. Department of Energy. The stencils include a biomass symbol, wind turbine, solar panel, compact fluorescent lamp (CFL) and an atom to represent nuclear energy. We started with three pumpkins; out of the five DOE designs, we didn’t carve the atom symbol or the CFL. Looking back, I should have done the light bulb.

The end result of our trials and tribulations were two happy pumpkins and two very sad pumpkins. Because England Porter and I don’t work on the same weekdays, Megan Harris worked with me on day one to knock out the solar panel design and biomass symbol. We printed the designs off the DOE website. They were perfect for our medium-sized pumpkins. Taping the flat designs to our round pumpkins took some cutting and folding. Afterwards, we used a sharp-pointed pen to poke holes through the paper, tracing the patterns onto the pumpkin shell. Pumpkin carving kits are inexpensive and can be reused each year. While rotary tools, minisaws and woodcarving tools are good for more advanced designs, they are unnecessary for smaller pumpkins and simple designs such as these.

We cut open our pumpkins, and I discovered that mine was beautiful. The inner fibers stood, crystallized, in a perfect pattern. Megan’s pumpkin looked as if it was about to burst. The stringy interior didn’t want to release the lid she’d cut. Once it was off, she saw the war that was being waged inside. Seeds were sprouting and spaghetti-like pumpkin fibers were everywhere–it was a mess. She got through it, though, and we both had roasted pumpkin seeds on our minds. The white seeds were easy to separate from the stringy pumpkin contents, for me at least. I think Megan may have struggled with her war pumpkin. Nevertheless, we hollowed out our pumpkins and were ready to go renewable energy on them.

Being entirely too smug with my pumpkin-carving ability, I took on the more detailed solar panel and created what would soon be known as Sad Pumpkin No. 1. It wasn’t that the design was too difficult, but that the spacing and small slivers made it almost impossible to carve the last few sections without ripping the delicate pieces holding the solar panel together. Now,days later, sitting next to me on my desk are the shriveled remains of what looks like a Cyclops pumpkin with triangle eyelashes and a sad mouth. Megan’s biomass symbol looks less unhappy, however, the sections of leaf stem have shriveled and curled, making it Sad Pumpkin No. 2.

I was not in attendance for pumpkin carving the following day with Megan and England. The results proved to be much more successful. England and Megan decided to re-try the designs but, instead of carving all the way through, they used a skinning technique that removed just the outer shell and left most of the flesh. Megan recreated the biomass symbol and England carved the wind turbine. The flesh of the pumpkin gives a nice natural glow when lit. Because the pumpkin flesh is not completely punctured, though, candles placed in the interior will go out if you put the lid on. Creating a vent or using an alternative form of lighting can help. We considered electric pumpkin lights but, because we were in the office, we found that two smartphones came in handy for pumpkin lighting in a pinch. Just make sure if you are using this technique that you scrape the inside of the pumpkin as thin as possible so the light shines through easily.

These designs were placed on the Department of Energy website as a fun Halloween activity–not the most complicated or exciting, but a great reminder of available energy resources. The kids on the block won’t smash these pumpkins. Actually, they may only be smashing these pumpkins, but at least we’re teaching them something about renewable energy and maybe they’ll smash them into a compost bin.

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