Fermenting can enhance and preserve your harvest


Fermenting vegetables is an art and a science. The guru of fermentation, Sandor Katz, offers both approaches to this ancient practice in his book “The Art of Fermentation.”

Katz presents more than the concepts and processes involved in fermentation in his book and in the workshops he conducts.

Ryan Peters studied with Katz and remains in contact with him as a colleague. Peters will share some of what he learned from Katz, as well as his own fermenting experience, in his “Get Cultured” hands-on workshop slated from 1:30 to 4:30 p.m. Saturday at the University of Hawaii Extension service office in Kainaliu.

The event is co-sponsored by the Hawaii Community College Office of Continuing Education and Training and University of Hawaii at Manoa Cooperative Extension Service. Registration is $49. Students are asked to bring 2 to 4 pounds of cabbage, a sharp knife, cutting board, bowl and two quart-sized jars to take home their fermenting vegetables. All spices, seasoning and other vegetables will be offered along with the instruction. To register, call the OCET office at 934-2700.

Though focusing primarily on the culinary side of making vegetable ferments such as sauerkraut, pickled beets and kimchi, workshop participants will also learn about the health benefits and cultural history of fermented foods including information about the microscopic organisms that can transform our food and extend its shelf life and usefulness.

Peters will discuss how the fermentation process is grounded in science yet inspired by tradition and culture. He will demonstrate small-scale fermenting, as well as discuss ways to expand the process to make enough to supply family, friends and interested buyers.

Like Katz, Peters is dedicated to making the fermentation process accessible to everyone. However, he advises that your first venture into fermenting be with an expert as many questions and problems are likely to arise that can be quickly answered in a class.

To get a very basic idea about fermenting vegetables, you can watch a YouTube video made a few years ago by Katz and posted at youtube.com/watch?v=i77hU3zR-fQ. In this video he shows how to get a vegetable fermentation started. He uses cabbage and carrots along with onion and garlic but suggests that red cabbage and beets might be added for additional color.

Once the vegetables are chopped or grated, he advises squeezing them as you stir to release their juices. When the veggies are juicy, he adds salt to taste before placing the mixture in a jar or crock. For beginners, a glass jar is recommended so you can watch the process. Metal or plastic containers are not recommended.

As you place the chopped veggies into the container, you’ll want to press them down firmly until the juices rise to the top, completely covering the vegetables in juice. Then, cover the container loosely or open daily to release the pressure that will build during the fermentation process.

If you see mold or discolored vegetables forming, they are not harmful, simply remove them and continue to keep your veggies submerged. Katz recommends relying on your tastebuds to determine when the product is ready to eat. Taste it at regular intervals. Once you like the taste, you can begin eating it. It can take a few days or a few weeks to achieve your preferred flavor.

Whether it is taste, health, adding value or preserving your harvest that motivates you, fermenting your crops offers all this and more. Start fermenting now for a happier, healthier, tastier and richer life.

Tropical gardening helpline

Alan asks: The recent heavy rains have caused several new water channels and flooded areas throughout my coffee land. Do you know of any state or federal agencies that can help mitigate the cost of repairing these issues on my farm?

Answer: The Farm Service Agency under the U.S. Department of Agriculture may be able to help if you file a report with them right away. Lester Ueda is the county executive director of FSA. His number in Hilo is 933-8341. You may reach him by email at lester.ueda@hai.usda.gov.

Ueda reported that they are currently in the assessment phase of the process following this latest series of storms. The agency is gathering information to assess storm damage on Big Island farms as a result of the heavy rains between Dec. 19 and 31. Once they have gathered sufficient reports, the agency will determine where and how to get the funds to help farmers with repairs.

Officials will probably want to see photos of the damage and an estimate of the cost of repair at some point and may need to schedule an inspection of the site if or when they get funds for this project.

As always, if you have crop insurance on your coffee or bananas or other crops that were adversely affected, that insurance may help cover your losses. If you do not have crop insurance, ask Ueda for advice on how to get it. This inexpensive insurance covers losses to your major crops caused by events including drought, flood, heavy rains or high winds and may also cover pest damage in some cases.

Check with the Farm Service Agency soon to report farm damage or crop losses caused by these recent rains. Your report can help the agency get the funds needed to help with farm repairs.

Email plant questions to konamg@ctahr.hawaii.edu for answers by certified master gardeners. Some questions will be chosen for inclusion in this column.

Diana Duff is a plant adviser, educator and consultant with an organic farm in Captain Cook.