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starter has very little activity

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agrossbl's picture
agrossbl

starter has very little activity

Hi!

I'm making a starter for the first time and think I am having some trouble. I used the "pineapple juice" method and started seeing bubbles and hooch after about 5 days. After about 8 days i was seeing a lot of activity after feeding it. Now it has been about 10 days, and several hours after feeding it gets small bubbles, but not very many, and it doesn't rise. I'm keeping it in a warm place, using filtered water and whole wheat flour. I took about a half cup of the starter and added a half cup of flour and enough water to make it seem like the right consistency. Am I doing anything wrong? Do I need to start over?

 

Thanks!

clazar123's picture
clazar123

A starter will go through a very active phase initially as the lactobacillus grow first and they are pretty active little buggers! Then the yeast starts catching up, the lactos decrease and the yeast are the slower to develop dough lifters. You need to keep going to build their numbers and you will start seeing more activity.

I know you are following directions but I always start and maintain my starters in a lot smaller amounts. Use the same ratio of starter/flour/water but you can make it a tinier amount so you aren't discarding so much flour. When you have a nicely active starter (bubbles up and consistently rises after a feed) then you can build it into a larger amount.

If you are seeing hootch formation, that means your little guys are starving and starting to live off of themselves rather than the flour. Do an additional feeding. I used to bring it to work (another reason to have a small amount) and feed it during the day until I got a good,balanced starter going.

Ford's picture
Ford

I'll echo clazar123's comments.  Sourdough requires patience.  It will take you 2 weeks to get the starter really active and about a month to have a mature starter.  Don't give up and don't start all over, that just delays things.  I use filtered water to keep from having the chlorine hurting the little critters.  I also use a scale to measure the ingredients.  You should do whatever works for you.

Ford

PMcCool's picture
PMcCool

Not knowing the proportions of water and flour in your starter, I wonder if it is a fairly thin consistency?  If it is, it may be allowing the bubbles to escape.

If that is the case, add enough flour to achieve a consistency that is somewhere in the thick batter to soft dough continuum.  Then it will have enough body to trap the bubbles and expand as it develops.

Paul

agrossbl's picture
agrossbl

thanks for all the advice! they do look a little more active today. the proportions i'm using are about 1:1:1, and it is a bit thin (more like pancake batter) so I will try to thicken it up a bit. 

 

how long do i need to wait before i can begin storing it in the fridge? Also, at what point can I start feeding all purpose flour instead of whole wheat?

 

Thanks so much! What a great community!

clazar123's picture
clazar123

I feed mine AP (all purpose) simply because it is cheap and available. I know there are people that use a WW (whole wheat) starter to make WW bread and an AP starter to make white bread but I use the same starter,regardless. The only time I think it really matters is when you are making a rye sour for a high percentage rye bread. There are all kinds of enzyme actions going on there.

I have found that if I switch back and forth between different flours for feedings, my culture is more likely to turn nasty and cheesy smelling. Some people feed their starter a flour mix right from the get-go that has a mix of AP,WW and a little rye (70%AP,20%WW,10%rye). I did that successfully for a while but then had to manage making sure I had enough of the flour mix on hand. So much easier to just dip into the AP bin. If you ever want to convert it to a specific starter base, just take some of the starter and start feeding it whatever flour you want to convert to for a week or so but keep the original starter as is.

Generally, the more liquid the starter, the faster the little yeasties eat up the food supply. They are more likely to encounter food if they are in a liquid state than solid state. As you go towards the solid (like dough) state, it usually can be longer between feedings. All that is temperature dependent,also. They sleep when it is cooler and get very active when warm. 80-82F is ideal for yeast.

 

By the way-3 years ago, I didn't know ANY of this. This is a great site to learn from and there are wonderful people here that love to help. I am always grateful for Floyd and all the Loafers!.

Bake delicious fun!

DavidEF's picture
DavidEF

You may want to do a couple things. Make sure you are getting a thicker batter-like consistency. Actually, the best way to make sure you are getting it right is to use a scale and weigh it out, at least until you are comfortable with how it should look. People use different ratios of water/flour, but generally a number close to 1:1 by weight is good. You said you are doing 1:1:1, but I don't see where you said whether that is by weight or volume. That ratio by volume would be VERY thin, like waffle batter, thinner than pancake batter. Your yeasties will starve, which sounds like what is happening, since you have hooch. Depending on how often you want to feed it, you may want to use a smaller amount of starter in the ratio for feeding, something like 4:4:1 as Flour:Water:Starter should give you a once-a-day feeding at a cool room temperature (low 70's). For warmer temps, feed a higher ratio (5:5:1 or 6:6:1 or more). For feeding twice daily, half as much flour and water in the ratio will do.

As for flour type, AP will feed your yeasties quite nicely, and cheaply, as long as white flour suits your bread recipe. Using natural, organic, WW or Rye flour is best for starting a culture, because the yeast is on the grain from the field. However, after you get some yeast activity going, switching to AP makes it cheaper, and also stops the introduction of new, maybe different and competing organisms, and gives the culture a chance to settle into what it is going to be from now on, rather than changing with every feeding.

As Ford said, you should plan on it taking a couple weeks to get really active, and a month to become somewhat mature. I wouldn't recommend trying to use it in any recipes until that maturity is there. Really active, mature starters can usually double in 8 hours or less, if you're feeding twice a day and giving them enough, but not too much to eat. I would recommend you don't attempt to store it in the fridge until it is mature at least. Also, since some yeast strains don't do well in the fridge, try splitting up your starter and putting some of it in the fridge, to see if it will survive, while keeping some active outside the fridge, for safety. You can easily do that at feeding time. Put some starter into two bowls, and feed them both, then put one in the fridge for a week, while you continue to feed the other every day. At the end of the week, you should be able to take the one out of the fridge, feed it, and watch it become active again if left at room temperature. If not, you'll be glad you kept one out.

One more thing: I highly recommend you follow clazar123's advice about keeping a smaller amount. Once again, this is much easier if you weigh your ingredients. You could probably get by with 5 grams of starter (maybe less!), with whatever ratio of flour and water works for your temperature and feeding schedule. Another benefit of this, if you switch to AP, is that it will reduce your number of organisms in the starter, leaving only the strongest ones to multiply and replenish the culture. This will help your starter to stabilize more quickly, and become mature.

DavidEF's picture
DavidEF

http://www.wildyeastblog.com/2007/07/13/raising-a-starter/

http://www.wildyeastblog.com/2007/09/29/maintain-starter/

Both of these links are from Susan's Wild Yeast blog. They are very informative, and will help you understand a little more. Also, check out her site while you're there, for some great recipes and tips. She has a Recipe Index in a tab at the top of the page. I've used a couple of her bread recipes, and they turned out great!

agrossbl's picture
agrossbl

Thanks everyone! I got a scale, am keeping less of it, and now the batter is more like the consistency of biscuit batter. I still don't think it's doubling in size after feeding but it's definitely still alive after almost 2 weeks so I have a feeling it'll make it!

Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

Discard and feed when the biscuit dough has reached the peak of expansion.  If you stirred it, wait for it to rise again, no matter how little and when it smells very beery, discard and feed again.  

Let it rise undisturbed until it peaks or reaches the maximum height (helps to have a narrow jar) before discarding and feeding.  

Each time you feed and allow to rise (hope you are taking notes) the rise will occur sooner and higher.  When it peaks in about 8 hrs at 23°C,  Switch to feeding every 12 hrs. and double the flour amount.

If the starter peaks under 8 hrs, wait until the end of 8 hrs to feed it.  Then add more flour to thicken it.  When the starter is being predictable, let it ferment until the rise is about one third risen, cover and place into the fridge.  Get back to the starter in 3 days or more and take a break.  Put the starter in a warm section of the fridge, high on the door is a good spot.  It should be labeled for protection have plenty of head room for expansion and covered not too tight so gasses can escape.

When ready to use pull out the starter, retain a portion of the starter (as back-up return to the fridge) while you either use or increase the amount for a recipe.  Cold starter will have less aroma than a warm one.   The chilled starter can be left for about a week before you feed it again.  

 

agrossbl's picture
agrossbl

wow lots of great info! i have a very busy schedule and haven't been able to monitor it very closely to see rising times, etc...I am usually only able to feed it first thing in the morning and once at night. This morning (about 12 hours after feeding) it looked like it had grown by about 25%. Hopefully it will survive without so much precision! it's definitely starting to get a nice sour smell