The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

New to sourdough starters. Would like advice.

arzajac's picture

New to sourdough starters. Would like advice.

I am new to sourdough and have been romanced by the concept of using natural levain to make bread.  I use local (Ontario, Canada) stone-ground hard whole wheat flour for most of my breads and by following advice on the internet, I have  successfully cultured a starter from my flour.  I have used only flour and water.  I got through the initial Lauconostoc phase and persrvered until my culutre smelled beery-sweet and sour and was nice and bubbly.  It took six days.

As a starter, it has doubled in about four hours on two occasions (two consecutive feedings).  I have used it to make a bread but was unimpressed with the rise.  It made it about 75 percent of the way and then petered out.  The bread had fair oven spring and decent crumb, but not what I am used to.  Today, I find my starter is still sluggish.

So it seems my starter is not as active as it needs to be.

From what I have read (from posts here on TFL as well as many other sourdough sites) it seems that the cure-all for any sourdough ailment is to feed it.

What's the best way to perk up a young starter like mine?  Should I keep it at 66-70 percent hydration or would it help it to increase it to 100 percent hydration?  Does that influence the health of the starter?

Should I feed it at a 1:1 ration of starter:flour or 1:2 (or more?)  Perhaps I am not introducing enough nutrients to sustain it and need to cut back on the amount of old starter or perhaps I am under-dosing my starter and not allowing enough of the starter's microorganisms into the next generation.  I have used only whole wheat flour and water and would prefer to avoid the use of any other ingredients. 

Any help would be appreciated.






Pablo's picture

Hummm...  doubling in 4 hours sounds like a nice active starter to me.  Personally I keep my starter at room temperature now and feed it twice a day.  It does a good job of leavening the dough.  Perhaps there's something else in your process?  How I do it is to use the extra 40g from feeding (in my case I maintain 50g of starter, when I feed it I keep 10g and expand it with 20g water and 20g flour) and expand that out to ~250g which I let double at least and then I use that to expand out into my final dough which is generally about 1200g.  If anything I have to keep an eye on it not over-frementing and spilling out of the container.  I get lots of rise.  I've heard recommendations about feeding a starter with white rather than whole wheat, but I don't recall the rationale.  Perhaps you could try running a parallel batch of starter with white flour and seeing if it makes a difference?  I've done lots of experimenting myself to arrive at my current way of doing things.  It seems to always be evolving and changing though.  If you just use a teeny bit of starter in the beginning, maybe a little white flour would be OK..?

Good luck.  I'll be interested in what you decide to do and how it turns out.


davec's picture

I am maintaining two versions of my starter, one fed with white flour, and the other with whole wheat.  The whole wheat can never rise as much as the white, but I think that is just because you can't get the great gluten structure with whole wheat that you can with refined flour.

I will also be following this thread with interest.


Eli's picture

Sounds as if you are on your way to a great starter. Let me first say I wouldn't add anything to it now but flour and water. Keep feeding and if you can keep in a temp around 68 to 75 degrees for now.  I keep my starter at 166 percent. Equal cups of flour and water.

As I read your post could you share some more information? What recipe/formula are you using? You may need to wait on some bread if you have only had two occurances with it rising or doubling? Do you get any rise after every feeding?

I think you may want to take a bit more time and keep feeding. Also, try getting it to the 100 percent even if you remove some and make it a second batch. Then keep the original and use the second batch at 100 percent see what you get.

Hopes this helps. And I am certain with everyone's help here you will be baking bread in no time.



arzajac's picture

Thanks for your help.

Something is fishy...

Last night, I fed three different portions of my starter with different flour and water ratios.  About four hours later, before going to bed, I didn't notice any activity.  So I pulled out some of the starter from a few feedings ago and made a few other feedings in a few other glasses, each with different hydration and flours. 

Only two of them show any activity this morning, one using AP flour at 100 percent hydration and another using a both AP and WW flour at 70 percent hydration.  The rest are all completely still.  Something I'm doing is killing my starter.

I've not been obsessive about sterile technique, but all of my glasses/containers have been cleaned and rinsed before I used them.  I'm sure there was no soap residue left in the glasses.

I object to using bottled water and have been using municipal tap water.  Perhaps that's the culprit?  I'll try boiling some water (and colling it) and see if that helps.

Is there anything else that I could be doing that would explain my results?

I can't think of anything else that would wipe out my starter.  The temperature in my house goes down to 16 degrees overnight (about 60F) and is around 21 (70F) during the day.  That should slow down the yeast, but it shouldn't kill them.  The flours I am using are the same ones I have baked wonderful yeasted breads with.

What starter recipe?  I mixed flour and water and stirred it two or three times per day.  I fed it once or twice per day by adding a little flour and water.  Over a few days, I increased the flour and decreased the water to bring the hydration up to about 70 per cent.

I'm going to take the two samples that have shown activity and feed them with 100 percent hydration AP flour using boiled tap water to see if that works.

LindyD's picture

You have an active, albeit young, starter so I'm not sure how water would affect one sample and not the others.

It may very well be that the new starters are not dead...they just need feeding.  Since they are experimental, you could try feeding them bread flour mixed with rye and see what happens.


Yumarama's picture

I'd keep working on a steady feeding regimen for the next week or so and not think about making bread yet.

You say you "added a little water and flour"... This description is a bit vague and may be where you're having issues, perhaps you are underfeeding your starter. You might want to go with a more structured approach for the first while at least and make sure you're sticking with a method that's worked for many people. I would suggest the basic 100% hydration variety and a ratio of 1:2:2 (starter:flour:water) should do you well. If you start with 30g of old starter (that's about 2 tablespoons), you'd add 60g flour and 60g water. In effect the old starter would be 1/5 of the new batch so there's plenty of fresh food for the beasties to munch. This makes 150g of starter (about a half cup) total, though measuring by weight is the better way to go for accuracy and repeatability. Once your starter is doing well, you can reduce the water ratio and get a stiff starter if you wish.

You didn't mention how often you're feeding at this point. Aim for twice a day if you're not already doing so. Once you've got a steady, dependable starter you can pop it in the fridge and reduce feedings to once a week. But until then, feed the baby twice daily.

If you suspect your tap water is treated with chloramine, as opposed to chlorine (check your town's website, it should say what's used there), boiling it won't change much as chloramine isn't removed through boiling or standing, unlike chlorine. If that's the case, you may need to bite the bullet and buy a jug of bottled spring water at least for use during your fledgling starter's setting up process since the colony may be a little fragile yet. Once it's on a roll, good tap water shouldn't be much of an issue. At 60g per feed (1/4 cup), a 2 litre jug should do you for two weeks so it's not a huge investment. Keep the bottle out at room temp, of course.

An easy way to do the feeding which makes it really fast and no fuss is to pre-weigh your flour into plastic bags. Weight out a weeks' worth (14) of 60g flour baggies and pop them in a shoe box or some such handy container. Doing this all in one go ahead of time saves having to get the big bag of flour and the scales out each time you need to feed.

So at your "Starter Station", you'd keep:


  • your starter jar
  • bottle of water and a 1/4c measure
  • small bowl
  • tablespoon
  • your box of flour bags
  • optional: small spatula


Then it's just a matter of putting 30g (~2 tablespoons) of the old starter in the small bowl, add 1/4c water, stir it up. Then add a bag of flour and give it a good mix. Drop the remaining old starter from your jar in the compost pail and put the new stuff back in the jar, no rinsing required (unless it's got really gunky but still, that's mostly for visual purposes). All you need to clean up is the spoon and mixing bowl, wipe the counter and you're done. The plastic bags can go back in the box to be refilled for week two.

Pablo's picture

Hey Rainbowz, I often get a lot out of your detailed and easy to follow explainations.  I have a question.  You seem to recommend 30g of starter fed with 60g water and 60g flour as a general rule.  I'm wondering if you have a reason for those amounts?  Personally, I'm trying to minimize the amounts of starter not used for bread, so I'm doing 10g:20g:20g.  Of course that only gives me 40g to start my builds with.  Do you prefer to have more starter to use when you begin your bread building cycle?  Just curious.


PS  I found some great little containers at the dollar store that I dedicate to my starter cycles.

Yumarama's picture

Thanks for the compliment!

I would presume that 30:60:60 amount has likely been transferred from the (nearly) equivalent imperial measures of 2 tablespoons starter and 1/4 cup water + equivalent weight flour. I've also seen people here saying they do half that again 15:30:30g and it works too.

Although there's been discussion about getting to such a small amount that you risk having too little original starter and could potentially run into issues where there aren't quite enough good yeasts to fight off invaders; I think there was some mention of a teaspoon starter in this case. It's somewhere here on TFL if you want to search.

Still,  I find a half cup of total starter to be plenty to make bread recipes I've run into, and there isn't really that much waste. Recipes needing more seem to need a LOT more; Susan's Norwich Sourdough, for example, did want 360g of starter so that would have to get built up in any case. But the bagels and the Vermont sourdough recipes I've been working with lately start with just 30g starter which the 120g "discard" I get can readily supply. But then so could the discard off a 75g starter when keeping 15. I guess it's 6 of one, half dozen of the other. Even the 40g you have available would be fine. I guess it depends on what recipes you're using regularly.

So I guess the short version of all that is I don't have a really definitive reason for the 30:60:60 amount other than I've seen it bunted about a fair bit and it makes a half cup  of starter which seems enough for me without being too much or too little. Since I refresh one a week, that extra 1/8 cup (or so) of flour a week isn't really something I worry about. I probably spill that much or more making bread anyway.

But the BIG point in that ratio isn't the actual amount so much as the scales of 1 to 2 to 2 so the yeasties get four times the original quantity to swim in and eat from.


I make use of a few dollar store containers as well, it's darn handy and of course "frugal", as Floyd notes.

arzajac's picture

I had started rolling back my starter and pulled out a few containers of the discards that I hadn't discarded and tried to get those to grow. 

So I suppose that if you are staring at a table full of jars (about ten) with flour, water and small lables, you are panicking.

After reading the posts here, I put the armful of containers back into the fridge and just concentrated on the last iteration which was sluggish.  After a two feedings (24 hours) at 30:60:60, it's slow, but active enough to double in 12 hours.  It smells nice.

I will take your advice, Rainbowz, and just feed it all week before I try to bake with it.  I agree that it is very young and I guess it is succeptible to any mishandling.  Maybe I didn't rinse off the soap well enough, or maybe it's something in the water.  Who knows?  It seems to be working itself out.



Pablo's picture

If you're feeding it twice a day, then you can keep it at room temperature and it will become much more active than if it were refrigerated.

arzajac's picture

Hello again!

My starter has stopped being active in the CO2 sense and now has developed an odour very much like garbage.  It used to double and it used to smell pungent and sour.  Now, it just sits there after a feeding and stinks.   

It seems I am culturing something other than what I want to culture.

Should I continue on feeding  or should I jettison this batch and start over?

Thanks for your advice.


Yumarama's picture

and you're up to starting anew (trust me, I started four times before one finally took!) then do so. If what you're getting at the moment just smells bad, it isn't really worth the risk of cultivating something questionable.

Now before you start up right from scratch again, it may be wise to consider getting yourself started using a pre-established culture. One good source is Friends of Carls; send them a pre-stamped self-addressed envelope (if you're in the US, otherwise a $1 US bill to cover postage plus a self-addressed envelope) and they'll send back a small packet of dried sourdough starter. You're pretty much guaranteed a successful starter this way and it will already be well established.

There are other sources of starters that you can buy as well, some will send dried others will send a small ball of stiff starter. But you will pay a 'retail' price plus shipping.

Before you decide you must "grow your own" or else it's a failure, keep in mind that sharing starters is a long-held tradition among bakers and there's no bad aspects of using a starter that was started by someone else any more than you drinking juice that was grown by someone else or driving a car you didn't build yourself. 

The other aspect of getting a near-certain good active culture from someone else is that you'll be several steps ahead in the game. Their starter should likely be well "aged" and other than getting it moving again from the dried flakes, it's already a well established culture and has less chance of being overtaken. 

It also lets you see how an active, established starter behaves, you can make bread with your restarted starter nearly as soon as it's gone through two or three feeds. 

So again, there's no "shame" to getting going with a starter someone else supplies. While you're working on your recipes and learning how to bake with sourdough, you can at the same time get your own starter going, knowing that there's no pressure, it can take three or four weeks, you al;ready have starter on the go, this new one is just a secondary exercise. 

As for a good starter starting recipe/instruction, you could do quite well following the one on Mike Avery's website although there are others as well, on this forum such as SourdoLady's recipe which adds a little pineapple or orange juice in order to get the environment a little acid which helps keep unwanted guests from setting up shop. Read at least both those links and see which one you might want to give a go at.

Pablo's picture

The only downside to Carl's is the shipping time.  Depending on when you get in their shipping cycle it can be 6 weeks to get the starter.   There are great instructions on Breadtopia ( ) for reviving a dried starter as well as instructions on drying your own.  There is also the option to purchase his starter and I imagine the shipping time would be much quicker.  I personally ended up trying many different starters on my own, settling on two as well as getting Carl's and eventually I've combined them all into a single starter to take care of.  I've also dried some of it per the Breadtopia instuctions and have it in the freezer, just in case.


arzajac's picture

This is interesting.  I decided to discard this batch and start a new one when I got back home - (we are currently staying at the in-laws to celebrate christmas)  Things were so busy that I never got around to cleaning up.  My starter sat there for 36 hours untouched. 

Of course, it started to bubble...

I stired it and went to bed.  The next day it hadn't doubled, but was pretty active.  I fed it at a 1:1:1 ratio, figuring I had just unknowingly started over.  24 hours later, it almost doubled again.  So I repeated the 1:1:1 feeding.  That was just over 24 hours ago and I will let it double again before feeding it.

It smells yeasty.

Yes, I have considered buying an established starter and I will use that alternative as a fall-back option if I cannot get this starter going.  I'm in no real rush, just curious.  But you're right, all this would be easier (and I would be asking fewer questions) if I knew how an active starter really behaves.



Yumarama's picture

If your starter doesn't have enough food available, it is very possible that you're inhibiting it's growth and causing the dreaded hootch effect (when the non-yeast bacteria produce too much alcohol). If there's not enough food, the yeast will run out of steam before it has time to double, so you may in effect be stopping it from doing so.

Is there a reason you've chosen to go with 1:1:1? And what are you amounts (ie, how many grams is "1" in that ratio)?

arzajac's picture

I'm sure the yeast are well fed since I haven't smelled hooch or any alcololic aroma in a while.  Nor has there been that much activity until recently.

When the neglected starter started to activate, I figured I better treat it as though I started from scratch, where most instructions describe taking half of the starter and adding 1:1 water and flour.  In my case it's half of the starter, 1/8th cup of water and 1/4 cup flour. 

I am going to feed it shortly.  I plan on bringing it to a 1:2:2 ratio as soon as it can double in 12 hours.  It currently just doubled and it has been about 26 hours since the feeding yesterday.

Perhaps I inadvertently killed off most of the yeast days ago and have been underpitching (not enoug yeast innoculation and a lot of food).  Another theory is that the acidic/smelly flour was a gread medium for the new yeasts in the feeding flour to procreate and I ended up starting a new generation of yeast.

I don't own a microscope so I can't tell...  I just got a kitchen scale for christmas so that's as high-tech as I want to be in the kitchen.

Yumarama's picture

A scale is your best friend here since you can then measure everything by weight. The only other high tech piece of equipment you might want is a good thermometer so you know what temp your oven's at. 

Well, except maybe a good stand mixer.

Keep at it and bust out that scale so you have a good idea what your ratios really are. Sounds like you're on your way. Keep updating as you go.

arzajac's picture

...It's been fed at a 1:2:2 ratio a few times and it can double in about 7 hours.  I will keep it on a twelve-hour feeding shedule and see if it will eventually double in less time.

I baked two batards with this morning's discard and it's very nice!  It has a great aroma and a sourness that's not overpowering.  I will have to figure out what kind of schedule I will need to feed it on to keep the flavour where it is.

Once the bulk fermentation is done, it really is active.  My batards rose well and the final proofing took less time that I though.

I suppose the lesson here is to not give up on the starter.  I guess anything that could go wrong would result in an acidic medium which will eventually favour the development of yeast.

Thanks everyone!  I'm really happy about this!

arzajac's picture

I'm really encouraged.

I mixed a quick dough using last night's discard.  I let it rise and then popped it in the fridge.  This morning, I took it out, folded it and let it proof for about an hour before putting it in the oven.  The texture, crust and crumb are better than what I would have expected!

gaaarp's picture

That is a beautiful looking loaf of bread, my friend.  nice open crumb.  Well-blistered crust.  I salute you!

Susan's picture

You should be very proud of yourself.  Just one suggestion for your beautiful bread:  The darker you can bake it--without burning it--the more flavorful it will be.  When you think it's done, leave it in the oven for another 5 minutes and keep a close eye on it.


Susan from San Diego