Fermentation Basics – Cheapo Jar Method

Place small jar in large jar. Push small jar down to bring juices to the surface. Make sure liquid is above the vegetables. Cover jars with a towel or cloth and secure cloth with rubber band.

If you read my post yesterday, you’ll know that I’m not big on buying equipment, but as any well-salted fermenter knows, keeping certain things, such as pickles, in an air-free environment is extremely important for promoting fermentation and impeding mold and other undesirable growth.  There are a few ways to do this.  One is to buy a thing, such as the Pickl-it or a crock with water seal capabilities.  Another, which I what I do most of the time, is to submerge veggies in their own juices or under brine via the cheapo jar method.  I love this method because it is free, done with materials I already have in my home, justifies one of my hoarding habits (jars) and keeps my veggies mold-free and delicious every time. Here’s how it works with kimchi and sauerkraut:

  1. Pack your cabbagey goodness into jars as tightly as you can.  You want a thin layer of their juices on the surface, but you still want an inch or two of space at the top of your jar.
  2. Once they are packed as tightly as possible, fill a very clean, smaller jar with water.
  3. Place smaller jar inside larger jar so that it rests on top of the veggies.  Push down if the vegetables are in any way peeking over the surface of the liquid.  You want them submerged!
  4. Cover the whole thing with a cloth and secure the cloth to the top of the big (bottom, vegetable containing) jar with a rubber band to keep out flies.  This allows the gases created by fermentation to release while keeping the veggies in the anaerobic environment they need.

A slight variation for lactopickles:

  1. Place veggies in jar.
  2. Pour brine over veggies.
  3. Leave about 2 inches of space at the top of your jar, because your veggies will be releasing water in the brine and if you don’t your jar will runeth over.  Even so, I recommend keeping a small plate underneath your lactopickles to catch any overflow.
  4. Fill your small jar about 2/3 full with water and place inside larger jar, over veggies so they are submerged under the brine.
  5. Cover with a cloth and secure with a rubber band.

Some submersion alternatives:

  • You can partially fill a ziplock-type bag with brine and place it over your veggies.  It will serve the same purpose as a cheapo jar system: keeping those suckers submerged. If the bag leaks, it will just leak brine into your veggies which is no problem at all, and will maintain the salinity you like.  I am not a big fan of this method because I have a possibly unreasonable fear of plastic near my food, and the thought of it soaking with my food for weeks is a big ol’ skeever.
  • You can use a sterile (boiled) and appropriately-sized, heavy stone.
  • I have used lemons, meyer lemons and clementines slightly past their prime. I picked this tip up somewhere in The Art of Fermentation (BUY IT!  I AM IN NO WAY COMPENSATED TO SAY THIS!), but I cannot find the reference so I’m just giving generic credit here.
  • If you are fermenting in a bowl, use a plate with a can or a heavy, sterilized stone on it to keep everything under water/brine/juice.  Cover with a cloth and secure.

That’s it!  My method may not be perfect or pretty but it definitely gets the job done in my house!  How do you keep your veggies submerged or free of mold?  Let me know in the comments!

And check out more ways to submerge your ferments, here!


  1. Ann says

    Stumbled upon your blog a couple days ago and have really enjoyed reading your posts. I can’t remember how I got here in the first place. Your posts are informative, friendly, and engaging without being holier-than-thou, which is how many fermenting sites seem to come across to me. I’ve been a casual fermenter for a few years now. I’m bookmarking your site so I can continue to check in here. Thank you for such easy-going and informative posts!

    • Amanda says

      Hi Ann,

      Thank you so much for that! Made my day! Hope to see you around here again soon. I’d love to hear your fermentation stories and experience too, if you ever have something to share!


  2. Mari says

    I saw your post and thank you, THANK YOU for posting a picture of the two jar method. I’ve seen it described buy no one that I regularly read ever felt the deep need to bother snapping a photo of it.

    • Amanda says

      You are very welcome! You can feel free to experiment with weights. The essential thing is that your veggies are submerged!

  3. Prolly says

    I mostly use the two jar method, but for small jars of experiments where I can’t find/fit an even smaller jar, I do something different. I use a clean length of nylon stocking, knotted at both ends and filled with glass marbles; for wee jars it may only take a dozen. If you use a slip knot on one end it is easier to open for cleaning and refilling. Just be sure that the liquid covers all of the bag o’ marbles; any portion left high and dry can go mouldy. I mostly use the clear glass marbles sold for using in vases. Since they are made from recycled glass (the colour of clear varies from batch to batch), and most glass is probably from jars etc, I like to think they are food safe

  4. Polly says

    Previous comment cut off my thank you for your site. I found you when looking to see how other people use their lacto fermented oranges!

    Polly (not Prolly, damned spellcheck)

  5. Heidi says

    Your website is so fun! I’m a total newb at ferments… it took me days to settle on a set up for my very first ferment: sauerkraut! I wish I had found this site first- you make everything completely approachable! Currently my kraut is on day 3, I’m using a sealed mason jar with an airlock. I’m using a smaller jar inside to weigh down the cabbage, but some bits are making their way around the jar to the top of the brine! They are turning brown, as is the brine, but I don’t see any fuzziness yet. Should I break the seal and skim this off? Or, since my jar is (theoretically) void of oxygen, should I lighten up and let it do its thing?

    • Amanda says

      Hi Heidi,

      Thank you so much!
      My advice: So I would definitely relax as step one! I’m sure it will be great, and if it isn’t it will be next time when you can apply what you’ve learned from this batch. The thing that give me a little bit of concern is that it’s brown. That’s not concern about the safety, it’s concern about why it would be turning brown. It sounds like there is air in there (airlocks don’t keep all oxygen out, since you don’t close them in a vacuum).And I’m not sure why the brine would be brown unless you used a dark seasoning?

      About how much liquid is over the top of your cabbage. It should be a thin layer.

      • Heidi says

        Thanks for responding Amanda!

        There was about a half inch to an inch of liquid covering the cabbage, and a lot of extra space in the jar, so upon further brain-using, you’re right, I probably closed the seal with more oxygen inside than the ferment burps could shove out! Taking apart the airlock, I also noticed the metal lid had starting slicing the side of the bung, perhaps letting more air in! Maybe I don’t totally understand, but I thought the brine itself was acidic enough to prevent spoilage- a day or two later and the very top of the packed cabbage was darkening, underneath the brine. All I added was caraway seeds and a shredded apple.

        But anyway! I ended up skimming the gunk and taking out as much brine as I could, then repacking it into smaller jars. I thought I might have to add salt water to cover it, but plenty of nice clear brine emerged! I’m now using this open jar method (using a fresh cabbage leaf to keep the kraut down… genius idea!!). I put some in the fridge since it tasted pretty good already, but I’m going to see if I can let the rest go a little longer. Thanks so much! I’m plotting what to ferment next!!

        • Amanda says

          Glad you got it worked out, Heidi! You’re in good company; we’ve all be through this trial and error! Usually kraut is a month or longer ferment (one of the longest vegetable ferments) so keep that in mind if you aren’t at the exact flavor that you’d like quite yet.

  6. Grace Slow says

    And here I thought I invented the ghetto jar method, lol! I do something really similar, using pint and a half jars for my ferment vessel and 4oz canning jars for my weight. I leave the lid off the smaller jar, and press in down into the ferment. I put just the right amount of brine in so that when the tops of the small and larger jars are even (height-wise), the brine is just below the top of the jar. The 40z jar remains empty. Then I put a canning lid on the pint and a half jar, which keeps the 4oz jar pushed down and the veggies under the brine. I tighten the lid enough to keep stuff from getting in, but not tight enough to prevent gas from escaping. Then, when checking on the ferment, if I find scum/kahm yeast, etc. on top, i just push the 4oz jar down a little further so that it’s just barely below the , and the brine at the very top, including the scum or whatever, drains into the 4oz jar. Then I lift the little jar out, pour out the scum, etc., and rinse it before putting it back in the jar. So easy!

  7. Christina says

    Very cool! I tried the bag of brine method and it was a major pain! Just messy, getting the right amount of liquid in the bag, just a big pain!
    I just fermented some blueberries in honey and used a small, wide mouth jar, and then used a regular mouth lid to hold the berries down. The honey helped it stick, so I don’t think it would work with brine, so I’m definitely going to try the jar instead! I’ve got 5 Fido jars sitting in my cart at crate and barrel website that I WANT but don’t want to pay for LOL so, trying to make my Ball 1/2 gallon jars work for me for now.
    Thanks for the tip and the website! Love it!

  8. Alexandra says

    Do you know why this is called “The Ghetto Jar” Method?

    All because of a woman called Irena Sendler. She used the Jar method to keep names of Jewish children ‘submerged’ (buried and hidden) until it was safe to reunite them with their families after the war. By using Ghetto Jars she kept the Jewish line and heritage safe, and exposed them when it was safe to do so.
    “Sendler convinced Jewish parents that their children were facing death either in the Ghetto or in concentration camps and offered to rescue them. She smuggled the children out of the Warsaw Ghetto and hid them in the homes of Poles who adopted them or in orphanages or convents. She made lists of the children’s names and family connections and hid them in jars in her garden so that someday she could find the children and tell them who they were.”

    From this link.: http://www.truthorfiction.com/rumors/i/irena-sendler.htm#.U_MHwMU2w3Q

    An amazing woman, who used jars to cover up and bring hope.
    Love your site, have followed your recipes and really thoroughly enjoyed the process.

    • Lori says

      Boy I’m slow, I thought it was called the Ghetto Method because even, poorer people could do it this way without any fancy equipment, thanks for educated me.

  9. Megan says

    I stumbled on to your site looking for a new way to make hot sauce and this sounded fantastic. I’m on day two and I used this method as best I could. My concern is the brine is cloudy… Is this normal or did I screw something up? I know we have harder water here and I used kosher salt. I just hope that I can still use it. Thanks.


    • Amanda says

      Hi Megan,

      Cloudy is good! That means the lactic acid bacteria are at work replicating. You may see some whitish debris in the bottom of your container, too. That’s just fine also! Just excess yeast and possible excess bacteria. Nothing to worry about!

      I hope you’re happy with your final sauce! I love hot sauce season!

  10. chris says

    I have a method of pickling that is somewhat unorthodox, simple, and have had considerable success with. I have not done alot of pickling, and usually had trouble with yeast and mold on top. Until I did this. I save all my jars from spaghetti or whatever. I know the volume of the jar because of the label. Weigh out 3% of the volume of the jar in salt. (24 oz jar=> 3/4 oz non iodized salt). Put half the salt in bottom of jar. Pack veggies and spices into the jar. Pour remainder of salt on top. Fill with filtered water to cover. (With my peppers I fill 1/3 with vinegar and 2/3 water.) Put cap on snug but not tight to allow gasses to escape. Occasionally slightly unscrew to relieve pressure, tighten and turn upside down a couple of times, readjust lid to snug. You can taste at anytime as long as it is still fermenting enough to evacuate the air introduced when opened. Otherwise, if done fermenting, pour olive oil on top and reseal to snug.

    No promises, but give it a try. works for me.

    • Amanda says

      Thanks for sharing, Chris!

      I’ve experimented with just about every method under the sun over the years. I think we all have ways that work best for us. I don’t enjoy using an oil seal, for instance, because I’m very sensitive to the smell and taste of rancid oil. The cool thing is that there are so many different ways that work. Glad you found a way that works for you!

      One small thing to consider: using 1/3rd vinegar in your peppers could definitely make the brine too acidic for fermentation to initiate. Many people add vinegar once fermentation has completed to make their hot sauce shelf stable, but adding it before will usually (not in every case) result in an infused hot sauce rather than a fermented one.

      Thanks again for sharing the ways that work for you!

  11. Alan says

    Amanda, love your commitment to fermentation and your recipes, gonna have to try some!

    One comment about your approach (weighting with a jar) with Pickl-It approach is that you are not achieving an anaerobic environment.

    Keeping your ferment submersed helps, but unfortunately is not truly anaerobic as Oxygen can disolve into the water from the air continuously (to reach an equilibrium of disolved Oxygen). The Oxygen will be depleted in a true anaerobic fermenting jar.

    • Amanda says

      Hi Alan,

      I would recommend reading this piece by Sandor Katz. It explains why a fully anaerobic environment is definitely not necessary for successful vegetable fermentation (although my many years of fermenting the way I do were proof enough for me!).

      Even in expensive jars that come equipped with airlocks, you will end up with some air in the part of the jar that is not full, depending on the length of fermentation. I’ve tried many, and I haven’t found any improvement in the quality of my ferments, so for me, they are definitely not worth the expense.

      I always encourage people to ferment the way that makes them most comfortable, but I also share as much science as I can, so that people don’t fall prey to fear-mongering as a sales tactic. That’s actually something that makes me pretty angry.

      There are some advantages to using airlocks, but none of them are related to safety or quality of the finished product.

      Thanks for reading and for the kind words. Sorry if this seems strong, but I feel pretty strongly about this topic!

      • Lori says

        Amanda, I so agree with you I put off fermenting at first because of a post I read when I was getting ready to start my journey, thankfully I don’t buy into all that stuff until further research, and I ended up on a blog that tested many different ways of fermenting, showing results in pictures as well as some scientific tests, some were fails, but of all the ways you have described all worked well, and I believe one of the fancy jar things were a fail, it’s been awhile since I read the blog so I don’t remember it all, but I use the baggy method, I did worry some about the plastic thingy like you, but I have had good luck, as long as I remember not to overfill jars, (big messes), none of them went bad just had to clean up a lot, practice makes perfect.


  1. […] are submerged, it’s time for weight.  With the horseradish cut the way it is, a smaller, water-filled jar works perfectly as a weight in the container I use.  Cover the whole thing with a tight-weave cloth and secure with a rubber […]

  2. […] That is why, dear reader, I was elated when the wonderful people at Fillmore Container offered you up an alternative to my *cough* relaxed fermentation decor. If you aren’t yet in the know, there exists a prettier solution: the Recap. Recaps are neato lids for the fermenting set.  They have a hole intended for a bung and airlock (not included) and they come in a variety of colors.  They look mighty pretty on the shelf, and help cut down on some of those fermenting odors that uninitiated houseguests may not enjoy (I say those folks are cray, for the record! Mmmm, kraut!). Furthermore, when fermentation is over, you can remove the airlock, flip the lid closed and stick them in the fridge.  This is a much neater solution than my very handy and beloved ghetto jar method. […]

  3. […] That’s why I’m so grateful to be a part of the community of fermenters supporting this Kickstarter project from FARMcurious.  Nicole, the founder, is set on helping new fermenters feel comfortable with the help of her BPA-free kits. This Kickstarter will give her the funds to put these kits into production. And if you land yourself a kit, you’ll get products to make you comfy during your initial fermentation trials. And as I mentioned last week, the reCAP lids bring other benefits as well. They keep the fermentation odors to a minimum, prevent the build-up of CO2 that can lead to leaks or bursts and have a more sophisticated demeanor than my double jar/napkin habit look. […]

  4. […] *Note that it’s pretty easy to do this without a fancy, stoneware fermentation crock, too. You can use a big, widemouth jar (with a smaller jar for the submersion weight), or a wide glass or stoneware bowl or food-grade plastic container (with a small plate or saucer as the weight). With either of those, you’ll really want to make sure that all the cukes stay submerged and out of oxygen’s way, and you’ll also probably want to cover the the whole shebang with cheesecloth or a towel to keep any fruitflies at bay. Amanda has more on the crockless technique here.  […]

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>