The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Yet another newbie - fustrated trying to make a starter.

zdog's picture

Yet another newbie - fustrated trying to make a starter.

Hello Everyone,

As you can guess, I’m new the site and bread baking as well.  I’m trying to learn from book, web, etc and have had pretty good success.  However, this sourdough thing has got me a bit frustrated.  I know you guys hear a lot of this, but I’ve been searching this site and researching of a couple weeks now, and am coming up short on finding an answer to my issues.  I’ve been trying to get a sour dough starter going.  I started with “Starting a Starter - Sourdough 101, a Tutorial” from this site last week and it seemed to fail, so I’m now trying it again.  I’m also am attempting Peter Reinhart’s starter that is in BBA.  Of the 3 they all seem to react similar around the Day 3 mark.  I’ll start by explaining results from Sourdough 101:

I get a little rise while just rye and water(Sourdough 101) but when I add the AP flour and water, things just stop.  On both of the starters from Sourdough 101 this was the case.  I let the first sit for about 7 days on the Day 4 step.  Not sure if I was suppose to feed it again or not.  I added a tbs of rye and little water, still nothing .  I used Hodges Mill Rye, Distilled H20 and KA AP.  Temp in my house is typically 67-68. Eventually I just tossed it and started over.   With the current starter from this, I changed the h20 to Spring Water.  Got a little rise on day 2, added the AP flour/water for day 3 and got nothing.  I didn’t add the Day 4 to wait for the rise and it is exactly at the same spot.  I’m at day 5 with no results. Do I feed it? Spike it? Wait?


With the Peter Reinhart Starter, I used pineapple juice and Bob’s Red Mill Dark Rye.  On Day 2 got about 50% rise.  Added KA BF and Spring water for Day 3.  Next day (day 4) I had about a 75% rise!  I was very excited but waited for it to double.  Marked it to see if I rose after that and it’s not budged in 24 hours.  So now it has sat for 48 hours.  I’ve not fed it and it’s still at same place on Day 4.  It’s very bubbly on the top and I can see bubbles on the side but it’s just not moving right now.  Should I toss ½ and feed it day 4?  Should I wait another 12 hours?  Again, temp in my house is b/t 67-68


(Side note:  Why does PR’s starter formula call for such a large volume of ingredients.  Seed calls for 4.25oz rye + 4oz juice, day 2 2.25oz  Bread Flour and 2 oz h2o, day 3-  toss ½ and add 4.5 oz  flour and  4 oz h2o, and same on Day 5.  Then for the Barm calls for 16 oz  flour and 2 cups h20 and 1 cup of seed.  Total Barm weighs 2.5 lbs.  Seems like a lot of waste especially when the Sourdough recipe calls for only 4 oz of barm for the “firm starter” .  Any thoughts?  Other starters I’ve read about don’t call for nearly that much stuff – ie Sourdough Lady and Sourdough 101.)

Ok, Any help would be greatly appreciated.    I’m trying to document everything and find what will eventually work.  I plan on trying Sourdough Lady’s next and also trying the Starting a Starter - Sourdough 101 using pineapple juice for the first 2 days and switching over.  Just seems to be a recurring theme.  I’ve read patience, patience, patience.  I’m ok with that but not sure if I should just be waiting or feeding while I’m waiting. : )


Thanks in advance!



PS: I really have read tons of stuff trying to figure this out on my own before posting this...


thespencers06's picture

I would feed it while waiting for it to rise. I am new here too and failed my 1st 2 starters. Is it pretty warm where your starter is? I am asking because my kitchen is pretty cold and I got better growth by moving it to my upstairs which is warmer

Yerffej's picture


There is another thread going on sourdough difficulties that you should read:

One comment, distilled water is the wrong water to use for making sourdough as it lacks the minerals that you want.  Use spring water if you are going to buy water.


zdog's picture

It's relatively cold here.  Outside temps are around mid 40s.  My house is constant around 68.  I've had a thermometer beside the starters and that's what it typically reads.


Not sure if I read that one or not, thanks will power through it.  Yeah, figured the distilled might be an issue so  switched to spring water for the one's I'm currently working on. 

whiskers's picture

You sound like me several weeks ago when I started this journey, and I was very concerned about my starter everyday. My rye starter took 7 days to become active, but it was not a gradual process. There was absolutely no sign of doubling or rising until the 7th day. I kept feeding though - every 24 hours.

Also, I was curious and took a portion of my original starter on the 3rd or 4th day and fed all white flour. That one never took off, unfortunately. And I'm glad I didn't do that to the whole thing. I guess there really was not enough yeast in it back then. But once my rye starter became fully active (so after 8days or so), I divided the starter in half and started feeding only white flour to one of them. I kept feeding it with white flour until there was no longer any trace of rye in the starter. Right now, both of my starters are happily resting in the fridge.

I'm sure you're doing all the right things. Patience will pay off eventually, as it did me. I would however not start feeding with white flour until your starter is fully activated (doubling within 6-8 hours). I didn't use the pinapple juice method, but used the raisin water instead. And I've been using tap water - seems to work for me.

Good luck!!

Sam49's picture

I began creating my 1st starter about 8-10 days ago.  I baked bread today.

I had read the procedure in BBA but found the mention of this being problematic in Reinhart's whole grain bread book before beginning to create the wild yeast starter.  Found my way here looking for the Debra Wink material which Reinhart mentions in the whole grain book.  Read all of that and found it interesting, but when it was time to do something, I focused on her brief summary of the process.

I didn't really follow it too closely.  I fed at 36 hour intervals for the first 3 feedings, then moved closer to 24.  I used pineapple juice an extra time in the beginning.  My house is quite cool as we never set the thermostat above 69 and the hall, so it wasn't as warm as some think necessary ever.  I didn't stir (aerate) the starter but once most days. 

At about 6 days it still smelled rather funky and I thought about tossing it.  Re-read the material and found Wink and others saying just be patient, the microbes we want will eventually grow, make things more acid and then the bad ones will die out.  I decided to keep on feeding my starter and to start another one the next day.  Got some more pineapple juice for that.  That night when I was feeding it for the 4th or 5th time (maybe 6th - I didn't keep notes like I usually do) I thought "why not boost the acidity by putting in some pineapple juice instead of water?"

Decided not to throw anything away and put rye into half of the starter as before and whole wheat into the other half & pineapple juice in both.

The next morning things were somewhat better in both jars.  So for a few more days I fed both the rye and whole wheat but with water and their respective flours - no white flour yet.   Planned to just keep feeding it for a few days.

Could tell by look, smell, and feel of the starter that it was making yeast.  So yesterday around noon instead of throwing some whole wheat starter away when feeding, I fed what would the "discard" about 60% of what was called for in a basic sourdough recipe I had - first build it was called.  Figured the worst that could happen is that it wouldn't make decent bread.

In a few hours, sooner than predicted by the recipe and lots of what I'd read, I had a bubbling batch of flour and yeast.  Before going to bed last night, I added about 50% of the water and flour prescribed for the 2nd build by that same recipe - added less as I didn't want that much bread.

This morning an even larger bubbling mass of yeast and flour - a very "alive" bowl.

Did an autolyse with the flour and water I wanted to add for completing the final dough, mixed in the KA, kneaded some by machine and some by hand.  The dough doubled in 90 minutes & continued to rise.  At just past 2 hours, I made it into loaves and later baked it.  It was pretty decent bread - though it didn't convert me to a sourdough fan.  (I have to re-read the material about making it be less sour.)

The final product was over two pounds of dough - and the only yeast came from slightly more than 2T of starter and what subsequently grew form that.  No additional starter or yeast was added.

All of my rise times were faster than predicted in the recipe and in other sourdough readings.

So, the lesson from the story is that you don't have to follow all the rules rigidly, be patient and understand that the good microbes will probably come out to play in time.  I was careful about keeping things covered, cleaning the sides of the jars, but not fanatic about it.

What I used to sucessfully make the dough was what I was going to throw away, not the rye or ww starters that I've feed and nursed along for two more days - and which should be better now.

Read the D Wink material, focus on that but don't be too rigid about the procedures, and keep trying to get the first one to work even if you begin another starter batch.

I missed the tastes that have come from the delayed fermentation breads that I have been exploring for the last few months.  If they were there, the sourdough masked them - but this dough never went in the refrigerator as is usual.



Yerffej's picture


This is a great review of your process as it demonstrates that what happens in your kitchen is likely to be very different from what happens in mine.  Also your decision to not throw away the new starter when it smelled "funky" was a good one.  This is the point at which the mistake of giving up is often made.

I think your write-up will be very helpful to many.


bakinbuff's picture

"Next day (day 4) I had about a 75% rise!  I was very excited but waited for it to double.  Marked it to see if I rose after that and it’s not budged in 24 hours.  So now it has sat for 48 hours.  I’ve not fed it and it’s still at same place on Day 4.  It’s very bubbly on the top and I can see bubbles on the side but it’s just not moving right now.  Should I toss ½ and feed it day 4?  Should I wait another 12 hours?  Again, temp in my house is b/t 67-68"


Sounds like the starter is plenty active (lots of bubbles on top) but maybe ran out of food?  If you left it for 48 hours without feeding, I would give it another good feed and see what happens.  When I built my first (and so far only) starter about 5 months ago, I just went on the bubbling and sour smell I had after about 5 days of feeding and discarding, and went ahead and baked bread.  My bread is much better now than it was when I first started baking with the starter, but most of this can be attributed to improving my handling of the dough, the proportions of ingredients, the fermentation times and techniques, and baking techniques.  You may find the starter more active/vigorous after a few bakes (because it has had longer to grow and been fed a few times) but it should be useable if it is plenty bubbly. 


Another thing to consider with regards to sourdough is in response to what Sam 49 said:

"At just past 2 hours, I made it into loaves and later baked it.  It was pretty decent bread - though it didn't convert me to a sourdough fan.  (I have to re-read the material about making it be less sour.)"

I think the key to baking with sourdough is experimenting enough so that you can make bread that you like (i.e. more sour, less sour, lighter texture, heavier texture, etc) by playing around with hydration, type of flours used, fermentation times, how you bake it such as with steam or under a cover, etc, until you have some types of bread that you enjoy.  Often all it takes to create a loaf that is hugely different from the last is small adjustments in the aforementioned factors.  It does take time and a good number of bakes before you will get what you are trying for, but in the meantime you should have some yummy bread to give away to friends and family.  =)  Good luck to you with your starter and baking!

pmccool's picture

First, discard half of the starter by weight, then feed with whatever proportions you like.  Do that twice a day.  I usually feed mine 2 parts flour and 1 part water (by weight) to 1 part starter but there isn't anything magical about that.  I prefer to keep mine as a stiff dough instead of a batter consistency, so those proportions work well for me.  I wouldn't recommend feeding your starter anything less than a weight of flour that is equal to the weight of the starter.  Even though starters can be amazingly resilient, they can't tolerate starvation any better than you or I.

Second, find a warmer place to park your nascent starter.  Temperatures below 70F really slow the growth of the organisms you are trying cultivate. 

Other than that, its a matter of waiting.  Starters take off when they are darn good and ready.  Keep 'em warm and fed and they will generally be happy.

Best of luck.


Ford's picture

It seems to me that those who have the most difficulty in growing the starter are the ones whose kitchen is too cool, e. g. 68°F (20°C).  Place your starter in a space that is about 80°F (27°C).  I think you will find a great difference in the activity.  Below is a summary of my notes taken from several sources on the conditions for growing the "micro-critters."


Conditions for Producing Sourdough
Lactobacteria and (Saccharomyces exiguus) yeast are sensitive to the temperature of their environment.  At 81°F (27°C) the metabolic rate of yeast is at a maximum.  At about 91°F (91°C) the rate of the lactobacteria growth is at a maximum.  Above 97°F (36°C), the yeast dies, and above 106°F (41°C) the lactobacilli die.  Below 40°F both have very little activity, but they are not killed.  In fact, the yeast and the bacteria may be frozen without killing them.  For the most rapid rise, ferment the starter and the ultimate dough at about 80°F (27°C).  For a more acid dough, ferment at a higher temperature, below 88°F (31°C) and for a longer time.   For a less acid dough, ferment at about 75°F and for an extended time.  Also starters with high hydration, as are the ones that I use, are less tart, acidic, than those with low percent hydration, say 75%.

For preservation of the character of the dough, the microbiologists recommend that the starter, and the resultant dough, be fed with no more flour than an amount equal to the weight of the total dough to which it is added, and no more water (or other liquid) without letting the culture grow before the next addition.  This, then, requires several risings before the final rising and baking, but insures that the dominant organisms of the culture remain the ones that are desired.  Otherwise, the organisms that are in the flour and other additives might overwhelm the sourdough cultures.

kolobezka's picture

I do not why I believed that the lower the temperaturem the more acid starter / bread. What you describe it´s the opposite. (?)

I am also not sure to understand well the last paragraph (maybe my English is not so good) - would you please be so kind and try to reformulate - or give an example?

Thanks very much,


zdog's picture


Thanks for the excellent information. 

Actually this morning when I checked the PR seed/starter it had actually fallen a bit. (maybe 10-15%)  I took the PR seed/starter halved it by weight, mixed in close to a 1:1.1:1 of seed, KABF and spring water. Cleaned the container placed starter back in the bowl, marked, covered, etc.  We shall see what happens.  (I’ve got quite a bit of seed/starter, Approx 12oz, was thinking on the next feeding doing an experiment per Ford’s data and building an additional one from the discard of the primary.  Then attempt to find a 80 degree spot in my house – also use Paul’s idea of 1:1:2 s-w-f twice a day )

I’ve not yet given up hope and am documenting things like crazy.  Again, Thanks for all the advice/Info (Ford thanks for the detailed information) much of this is being documented in my composition book of Bread fun! : )



Sam49's picture

It is not essential to have 80 degree temps to successfully establish a wild yeast / sourdough culture.  All that does is increase speed of growth.  I have just done it successfully at lower temperatures on my first attempt.

You just need to know that it will take longer with cooler temperatures and that you must be patient.

The following passage is from Debra Wink's Basic Procedure for Making Sourdough Starter:

"Temperature: You don't need to keep it in a special place unless your house is particularly cool--try to keep it in the 70's for the most part. 75-78º would be ideal, but you needn't go out of your way to achieve that. The low 70's will do fine. Below 68, things might be a bit slow to develop (but it will eventually). One solution for those with very cool houses, is to turn on a desk or table lamp and set your container in the vicinity. Light bulbs put out a LOT of heat, so be sure to take a temperature reading of the site and set the starter where it won't be warmer than about 80º. Cool is better than too warm. If the starter develops a crust at any time, move it farther from the heat source. The warmth helps more in the first few days because the various bacteria really like it and it helps them produce the acids needed to lower the pH and wake up the yeast. The yeast don't need it so warm. Once you have a good population of yeast growing, you'll be able to maintain it at cool room temp, even if that's less than 70º. They will grow faster if kept warm, but they'll also run through their food supply and exhaust themselves sooner as well."

The whole procedure can be found at

I would recommend finding Debra Wink's other materials on The Fresh Loaf if you really want to understand the microbiology and chemistry behind this.  However, all that technical information isn't needed to grow out a successful starter.

See the following and the links at its end:

Since we know that you can successfully start and maintain a culture in a house where the temperatures are always in the mid to upper 60's, failure means that something else has gone wrong and needs to be addressed.

In addition, it is easy to kill off your yeast and bacteria if you aren't careful as you artificially elevate the temperature in one part of your house.  Several of the methods I've seen posted on this list and this thread would give you little or no real control of the temperature to which the culture would be exposed and could easily result in temperatures that would kill the microbes.  Then one would really have failure.

From what I understand of his posts, the original poster waited for a long period of time for activity to appear and didn't feed his culture during this time waiting for the doubling to occur.  No food, no activity regardless of the temperature. 

Feed according to the plan D Wink sets forth in the link above, be patient and realize that it may take a few more feedings and days and it will work.  It is a process of growing enough yeast and lactobacilli for the starter environment to reach a sufficient acidity to kill of the other microbes and be productive.

I would also note again that I rarely had real doubling of the contents in the jars - substantial growth and activity - but often not doubling.  I also gave it a shot of pineapple juice at what would have been the 3rd feed with water.  My results weren't just like the schedule but I just kept feeding it anyway and I got a starter that is baking bread.  I was somewhat diligent (not fanatic) about keeping the sides of the jars clean.


Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

When switching to another flour to feed your starter, say from rye to wheat, do it slowly and when your starter has proved itself to rise repeatedly with each new discard/feed at 12 hour intervals. 

Meaning don't suddenly switch using one oz. of rye from one feeding to one oz. wheat the next just as your starter is first showing signs of life.   Introduce the flour slowly by exchanging one teaspoon of the rye for wheat,  and give the starter time to respond within 24 hours.  If it is slow, return to rye and 12 hour feedings.  Try again after a few 12 hour feeds of rye.  When you slowly exchange the flour, you have a much better chance of succeeding.  After a 24 hour period of two feeds with one spoon of flour exchanged, try exchanging two spoonfuls of rye flour for wheat, two consecutive discard/feedings for at least a full day and see how the starter responds.  Now if it is slow, stick to that flour combination for a few more days (12 hour discard/feedings) before going then to full wheat discard/feedings.  (This process assumes no refrigeration at a room temp of 74°F. )

Any rise is a response.  It doesn't have to double.  Anytime a starter has started to dome and then sinks, gives off a beer smell, the food has been used in the starter and that starter needs to be fed.  Waiting 24 or 48 hours without feeding it, waiting then for it to "double" is bad for the starter, making it go hungry and forcing it to shift from a growth stage into a dormant stage adding days to starter growth.  Don't do it. 


Andrew S's picture
Andrew S

Be patient!    I have found a Whole grain flour/meal, wheat, rye, buckwheat works a treat to first activate things.  Naturally ocurring  "invisible things" in the bran layers of unprocessed grain are there in abundance.

Regular little feeds.      Equal amounts of flour and water.  Tap water is just fine, if your water has a lot of chlorine, use boiled, cooled water from the kettle.

Constant temperature.    Everyone says A high temp works best and I would say do as advised by the majority.   The people on this site are bread nutters like us and have a weath of experience and knowledge ( I LOVE this site).  My Personal view is that too high a temp can give bad "off" acidity, not so nice aromas and a pretty lousy crumb structure and colour.

Have another go!    When it all clicks, stick with it.  If it works for you then that is the way to go, what ever all the books and sites insist on.  It's YOUR bread and baking.

Take lots of notes.    Your memory will let you down when it is most inconvienient, it is the law of sod!  Times,  temps,  weights of everything,  list of equipment.

Dont guess a thing.    Tablespoons,  teaspoons,  pinches, approx,  about,  roughly,  cups (yes I did say cups),  should not be in your baker's vocabulary.  When the magic happens, you want to be able to repeat it, right?

Andrew S.

joyfulbaker's picture

I had success using Maggie Glezer's system in Artisan Baking Across America.  It seemed pretty straightforward, starting with rye flour and then moving to all-purpose.  I used King Arthur's AP, but you could use a reputable bread flour.  I have been feeding this starter for over a year, and every few times I feed it, I put about a tsp. of rye flour in along with the AP, which seems to give it a nice "jolt."  It was really quite simple, and the quality of the starter is really beautiful.  I feed it about once a week, 1 oz. of "old" starter (stored in fridge for a week, sealed jar) whisked into 2 oz. slightly warmed filtered water, then 3 oz. of bread flour (a little rye flour included every once in awhile) mixed in, putting it in an UNsealed 1/2 liter jar, and it easily doubles in 8 hours.  If I leave it overnight, it's just begun to fall and then I either feed it again if I'm building toward a levain, or I just reseal it and refrigerate it for the next time.


joyfulbaker's picture

PS:  If I'm building the starter toward a levain, I feed (refresh) it for two days, EVERY 12 HOURS, then make the levain.  My recipe for levain is 2 oz. starter whisked in 5 oz. slightly warmed filtered water, then 5 oz. bread flour mixed in thoroughly.  The levain rests for 10-12 hours in my 64- or 65-degree kitchen and rises to 3X original size.  It makes a fabulous sourdough (I use Thom Leonard's country French in Glezer's book, sometimes making the olive bread).  I do NOT add commercial yeast.  The levain is mixed in 12 oz.slightly warmed filtered water, whisked, then I attach the dough hook (Kitchen Aid, 6-qt. prof. mixer), add flour:  1 oz. rye, 1 oz. coarse w/w, 2.5 oz. hi-protein w/w, 14.5 oz. bread flour.  Mix for 15 min, then add 18 GM sea salt, mix again for 4 more minutes.  Then transfer to oiled bowl, cover w/ plastic (shower cap works well), then "fold" 3 times, every 20 min., then let it grow for +/- 3 hrs.  Then preshape, wait 5 min., final shaping (2 small loaves or one large), put in floured basket(s), cover w/ plastic, let rise 2.5-3 hrs., same room temp.  Bake on preheated stone (preset to 500 F.) with steam (spritz a few times for 1st 10 min.), then lower heat to 450 F., bake another 20-25 min, watch for burning.  I turn the dough out from the rising basket(s) onto parchment paper placed on rimless cookie sheet(s), which are my "peel(s)."  OR, I use a preheated 6-qt. cast iron for one large loaf--no steaming needed, a la "no-knead style."   Works fine!


zdog's picture

Patience Patience Patience....The recurring theme throughout the post(and every thing I've read).  I guess you guys are on to something cause I've now got not 1 but 2 healthy starters!  Thanks everyone for the information!  I started thinking "outside of the box" a bit based on EVERYTHING that was posted here and the dynamics of the bacterial reproduction. (BTW: Sam thanks so much for the link to the pineapple-juice-solution-part-1 info.  I found that information both fascinating and very useful!)  Used some pineapple juice at one point and additional rye.  Kept feeding and over time there is was.  The older one has a wonderful "sour" aroma to it.  I had a native San Franciscan/foodie over for pizza this evening and she was very impressed with the aroma of the starter.  So now I just need to bake with it (yeah the last got me in a bit of trouble cause she volunteered to be a taste tester and well I promised one of my first loaves to her ;) ) 

Anyway, thanks again for ALL of the wonderful information.  If I can figure out how to post images I'll put up a pic of the new additions.