Heights neighbors divided over homeowner's pumpkin pile: Bio-hazard or urban gardening innovation?

Lileana Pearson Image
Thursday, December 7, 2023
Pumpkin patch or eyesore? Either way, city of Houston says it must go
A house in The Heights has people divided over a homeowner's mountain of pumpkins, with the City of Houston saying the spectacle is a bio-hazard.

HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- A massive pumpkin pile has neighbors divided - is it a beautiful display or a hazard?

The owner said it's a well-tended part of their urban gardening operation and thinks the city was mistaken in posting a notice stating the spectacle is a bio-hazard.

Homeowner Catherine Woodward said she stopped counting after collecting 900 pumpkins from neighbors and friends to keep them from going to landfills.

"You can see it's a huge volume of organic matter, and in landfills, this builds up as methane, and that is hazardous for the workers there and kind of in general. And I have a garden, and I use compost, and this works really well as compost, so before they go bad, I pile them up in my yard, and I enjoy them, but as they get older and get rotten, I put them in my compost pile, and they feed my garden for the future," Woodward said.

In the mound is a mix of gourds, pumpkins that have been decorated by kids, and even an acorn squash that you find in your grocery store. But on Wednesday morning, she and her brother got a knock on the door from the City of Houston Department of Neighborhoods with a notice saying the pumpkins were a bio-hazard and had to go.

"There is a range of really interesting shapes and warts. I was really impressed by this pumpkin. I had never seen one of these orange and grey ones," Woodward said as she picked up pumpkins and gourds to show ABC13 the variety.

The colors, textures, and sheer size of the collection are impressive.

"It's probably thousands of pounds of pumpkins," Woodward said.

The pumpkin pile on E. 32nd Street in The Heights has caught the eyes of neighbors, who aren't as impressed.

"I know the rain saturated, so what's going to happen is those pumpkins are going to be rotten and start smelling," neighbor Bobby Bowman said.

The city was alerted and posted a notice saying the display was a bio-hazard and Woodward needed to clean it up, though Woodward said the city employee placing the notice felt otherwise.

"He said, 'I don't see any rotting pumpkins, and I think it looks nice,' but yeah, he's just doing his job," Woodward said.

The city ordinance in question says you can't have anything that causes a hazard to human health. Woodward says this project is carefully cultivated to keep only healthy pumpkins in the front yard.

"I love my pumpkins," Woodward said.

Once a pumpkin starts to turn, she brings it to her backyard, chops it up, and adds it to her compost bin to break down and go into her urban garden.

"We have a green cabbage. This one is parsley. Here's some more cherry tomatoes," Woodward said as she walked through her well-tended lot.

With no smells, fluids, bugs, or obvious signs of pests, ABC13 asked the city's department of neighborhoods who placed the notice and what part of the pumpkin display was a bio-hazard. We were told to look up the code cited, and they would look into the notice. We have not heard back at this time.

Neighbors also worried this would be a great place for rodents and other pests to get a late-night snack. Woodward said she feeds multiple outdoor cats and feels that keeps any potential rodent population away. She said she hasn't seen an uptick in pests.

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