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I am making ginger beer, the old fashioned way with a plant. The plant is a jamjar which I feed with one teaspoon of sugar and powdered ginger daily.

I'm going on holiday soon, for several weeks. I've been nurturing this plant for a couple of months and it's getting really nice, and I don't want to have to start again from scratch. What can I do to preserve it while I'm away?

I have access to a fridge (about 3ºC) and a freezer (about -10ºC). Given that the plant is a rather complex symbiotic mixture of yeast and bacteria, can I halt both their metabolism simply by putting it in the fridge? Can I freeze it without killing it off completely?

The other thing I'm worried about is that given that the plant lives at room temperature and covered only by a cloth, secondary infections are prevented partly by the sterilising effect of the ginger and ethanol, but mostly by the way that there's a hell of a lot of plant there and it's simply outcompeting any wild yeast or bacteria. If I damage the plant too much it won't be able to do this any more, and I run the risk of poisoning the plant.

Any ideas?

Update: I'm not posting this as an answer become someone else already has that honour, but...

After forgetting about the one in the fridge for too long it went manky and I threw it away. However, I recently brought the one in the freezer out of cryosuspension, fed it up for a week, and bottled.

Turns out that freezing thoroughly kills a ginger beer plant. After a week and a half the bottles are totally failing to pressurise. And now one of the bottles is going mouldy on top (the mould is floating on the surface of the liquid). To me this suggests that the ethanol content isn't high enough to kill off the mould. So I reckon that's a total failure.

I think now I'm going to have to start again from scratch; which is a shame, as I was getting a really good flavour out of it. It may be possible to salvage some of that by recycling the liquid from the culture, but it's probably not worth the risk.

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Yeasts can be stored in cold temperatures for quite a while, provided they aren't open to the air. I'm not sure about lactic bacteria though, since a lot of them are located in other living organisms. Best bet would be to split your plant, try to keep one going with a friend or family member as fatboab suggested, and keep the other in the refrigerator.

If you have enough, you could split it three ways and try out the freezer too, but I'd worry about damaging the plant ecology if you split it too small.

additional advice: If the plant is in suspension (ie liquid) don't freeze it - the ice needles will puncture the yeast cysts. If the liquid contains sugar, you should be able to store it in a cool-room at 0 degrees C without it freezing. It may gallop a bit in a domestic fridge at 4 deg. C.

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  • Yes, of course --- I should have thought of that... and I don't need to worry about splitting it too small, either; I have far too much and either need to give some away or discard some. Anyway, thanks. (I'll try and remember to report back in the New Year.) – David Given Nov 23 '11 at 13:33
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    The scientific method wins again! Test ALL THE CASES! – colin.t.welch Nov 23 '11 at 19:06
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Give it to a friend to look after. I can remember my wee brother looking after a friends plant while they were on holiday. The reward? My brother got some of the plant, which he grew on and we got ginger beer.

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I've found that my ginger bug is heartier than I gave it credit for. I was making a batch of Ginger Beer just about every 7-10 days after I first cultured the bug, and was feeding it after every batch. I'd let it sit on the counter for 24 hours after feeding to come up to temp, allow the yeasties to consume some of the fresh sugar, and then I'd pop it back in the fridge for a week or two before making the next batch.

I've left it in the fridge for up to a month now, without any feeding; and took it out this past weekend to make a new batch. I swirled the jar on the counter a bit to stir up the little yeasties at the bottom and it was bubbling vigorously within an hour on the countertop.

My bug is made of a large raw, organic ginger root that I minced from the top down to the root with a food processor; pulsing the bits until I got them to desired size. The jar was sanitized before use, and I used Reverse Osmosis filtered water for the liquid base. It's now going on 4 months active, and I split the bug once to give some to friends, sliced some new organic ginger and added it to the existing bug. No added yeast other than what is found in my home/yard occurring naturally. It's going strong and making some amazing batches of GB.

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