Pumpkin Scarring Creates Etched Designs for a Unique Decoration

It's an all-natural way to decorate for fall.

Carving pumpkins will always be one of my favorite Halloween traditions, but I recently discovered a new pumpkin decorating technique, and you're going to want to try it. It's called pumpkin etching, but it's a different technique than the traditional pumpkin etching you might have done before.

Rather than etching a design into the pumpkin and displaying it right away, this kind of etching is done weeks or months beforehand, which creates a pretty raised design on the pumpkin. We chatted with Jessie Alt, the pumpkin farmer at Alt Farms in Madrid, Iowa, about how the process works. She's been growing pumpkins since childhood, and now at Alt Farms, she etches pumpkins for customers.

etched pumpkin
Courtesy of Alt Farms

Over the past few years, she's etched quite a variety of designs. "I do pumpkins for kids with smiley faces, names, and animals, and I create decorative pumpkins for tabletops or front porches," she says. "The only limits to etching are imagination and time."

Jessie Alt

"The only limits to etching are imagination and time."

— Jessie Alt
etched pumpkin stand
Courtesy of Alt Farms

How Pumpkin Etching Works

Etching the pumpkin during the growing process causes the pumpkin rind to heal over the etched area, forming a raised design. "Etching is a natural process where the pumpkin heals up from an intentional scratch," Alt says. "The pumpkin heals up from etching just like it scars over from a bug taking a bite or a leaf rubbing against the skin."

But rather than the small bumps or 'warts' you'd find on any given pumpkin in the patch, Alt creates etches or scratches to form words, phrases, and designs. "The goal is to lightly damage the pumpkin so it heals over giving a beautifully raised etched effect."

When you etch a design into the rind of a pumpkin as part of a pumpkin carving stencil, the design will last for a week (maybe two) before the exposed areas start to rot. But if you etch the design far enough in advance, the etched area will heal over, meaning your design will last all season long.

Plus, you don't even need a pumpkin carving kit! "Most pumpkins and squash can be etched with varying results using tools like bamboo skewers, flat head screwdrivers, or a Dremel," Alt says. "The combination of design, pumpkin color, and tool used produces endless pumpkin possibilities."

etched pumpkin
Courtesy of Alt Farms

When Should You Etch the Pumpkin?

The only downfall of this technique is that it does need to be done well in advance. Alt says the ideal time to etch your design is when the pumpkin is almost full size, but before the skin hardens. That means you'll have to etch it while it's still growing on the vine—the process won't work on a pumpkin you've already picked at the patch.

Alt says the ideal time varies based on geography and your pumpkin variety, but she starts etching in the middle of July and finishes the late varieties in mid-August—although she says in a pinch it is possible to etch them through September 1.

So while it's too late to create your own pumpkin etchings for this year, locals can stop by Alt Farms to see the designs in person, or check out the Alt Farms Instagram account for some pretty incredible fall inspiration.

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