FARMcurious Fermenting Set - Troubleshooting

Uh-oh. Something went wrong with your fermentation set? Let's troubleshoot...

Mold It looks like there's mold growing on top of my produce. What do I do? First, are you sure it's mold? It's normal for a fermentation to get cloudy, especially near the bottom of the jar- that's your bacteria so don't worry about that at all! If there really is a thin layer of yeast on top of your brine, we recommend pulling it off and tasting the veggies underneath. The good thing to know is that they won't kill you - lots of people ferment with the assumption that they'll have to do this (and Michael Pollan on NPR told me that the CDC has no documented cases of illness from lacto-fermented food). Be brave! **Please see my little disclaimer below. That said, mold spore can be harmful over time and in a closed system like the FARMcurious Fermenting Set your vegetables shouldn't have gotten moldy. So let's trouble-shoot....

  1. Was there water in the airlock?
  2. Did you have the white rubber gasket inserted tightly in the cap?
  3. Did you open it at any point during fermentation to 'peek'? (This can let yeast and mold spores in)
  4. Was there more than 1" of space between the top of the brine and the top of the jar?
  5. Was your produce shredded? If so, please read this post about weighting shredded vegetables.

These are some things that could cause issues. If any of those things seem suspicious, make an adjustment and try again!

No Bubbles A lot of people seem to get caught up on whether or not there are bubbles forming in their fermentation. It's true that lacto-fermentation does produce carbon dioxide and you will frequently see bubbles forming in the jar; however, sometimes carbon dioxide is produced and makes it's way up through the top of the fermentation so efficiently that you don't see it. This happens frequently when the produce is in larger, solid pieces that aren't trapping the CO2 underneath. Don't worry - just because you can't see it doesn't mean it's not working!

Brine in the Airlock If you fill your fermentation too full (leaving less than 1" between the brine and the top of the jar), you may get expansion that causes your brine to push up into the airlock. This can happen especially if your produce was shredded (see this post about weighting shredded produce). Overflow into the airlock usually isn't any more of a problem than the mess - just put a saucer underneath it to catch any spills and wait the allotted fermentation time. Sometimes, however, the brine pushing up into the lid may cause it to come into contact with the white gasket that seals the lid onto the jar. Because the gasket is rubber it can pass an off-putting rubbery flavor into the top layers of the fermentation. You won't know whether that happens until your fermentation is done and you taste it. If this happens remove and discard the top layers unto you can no longer taste the rubber. Next time leave more headspace and/or weight any shredded produce.

Things are Turning Pink! Did you add something red, purple or deep orange to your fermentation mix? Red cabbage, beets, radishes and even carrots can stain the brine and other veggies a red or pink color. Nothing to worry about!

My Garlic Turned Blue or Green?? This is a natural process that can sometimes occur during fermentation. While it's not harmful at all there are some steps you can try to take to avoid it. Here's an interested article by Mother Earth News if you're interested in learning more.

My Cucumber Pickles are Soggy. Cucumber pickles, like sauerkraut, are not only one of the trickiest ferments to perfect, but also the ferment people usually want to try first (naturally). We recommend getting your proverbial fermenting 'sea legs' with simple recipes like those provided in your kit before you move on to cucumbers and kraut. That said, if you're wondering why your cucumbers pickles might have gotten soggy, here are some things to ask:

 There are lots of details that go into making a great cucumber pickle. For starters....
  • Did you cut the blossom end off the cucumber? The blossom end contains enzymes that actually work to soften the cucumber as it ferments - not really something you want so we cut about 1/4" off the end of the cucumber. If you're not certain which end is the blossom end, cut them both off!
  • Did you use the very freshest produce? Sometimes cucumbers from the grocery store are old and have already started to soften. Fermentation can't add crispness back in so start with the most firm, freshest cucumbers you can find.
  • Did you use a specific pickling cucumber or just regular eating cucumbers? Did you know there are specific varieties (like Kirby) which are ideal for pickling? You'll see them listed as 'pickling cucumbers' and they're much better suited for fermenting.
  • Did you add tannins in the form of a grape leaf or black tea bag? Adding tannins will help keep your cucumbers crisp. If you don't have access to fresh grape leaves (not the canned or cured kind), you can use a regular black tea bag!
Um, My Lid Seems to be Stuck on my Jar. If you get salt water into the threading, it can make the lids stick on REALLY tight! Luckily, running a little warm water under the edge of the lid to dissolve the salt and loosen it up seems to help. If it's a really tricky one, you might try lightly tapping the lid on the edge of your counter after running warm water under it.

We hope these recommendations help. There's so much that goes into making an exquisite traditional sour dill. Take good notes and keep trying - you'll get there!

Good luck! Sometimes nature gets the best of us despite our best efforts and we try again. :-)

** My little disclaimer: Please note that I am giving age-old fermentation advice that has been considered true throughout history and is espoused by fermentation experts like Sandor Katz. I am neither a food scientist, nutritionist, doctor or biologist. You have to be the judge of your own threshold for safety - my suggestions should not replace your own good sense or the advice of more learned experts. I cannot be held liable for illness or injury caused by the use of FARMcurious products or any technique discussed on this website.  ;-) Now, go forth and FERMENT!