The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

wild yeast starter

lilo's picture

wild yeast starter

I have been having problems trying to get a wild yeast starter going.  I have tried this twice now with no success.

I am following Peter Reinhart's recipe in the bread bakers apprentice.  I am doing everything that he suggests.  I start with rye flour and pineapple juice at room temperature for day 1.  I continue with the pineapple jucie and bread flour for day 2.  I switch to room temperature water for day 3 and 4.

Day 1 and day 2 I basically have no growth.

Day 3 it did not double in size.  It grew about an extra 75%.  I let it go longer, but I did not see a difference within 12 hours.

Day 4 it did not double in size.  It grew about an extra 75%.  I let it go longer, but I did not see a difference within 12 hours.

I decided to try and make the barm.  I have a few bubbles but no major growth and the plastic wrap has not swollen like a balloon.  The dough seems to be about the same size as yesterday.

I am using a glass pyrex 4 cup measuring cup and am marking the level with tape.  My house is set at 77 degrees, and I have it near a window with indirect sunlight.

Any thoughts or reasons why my starter is not cooperating would be most grateful.  Suggestions on what I should change or what I am doing wrong will also be very helpful.




grind's picture

What I've done is dice two cored organic apples and place them in two cups of water.  I put the container on the fridge and when the bubbling peeks, I strain out the apples and then start with organic white flour (100 % hyrdration at first).   I then carry on feeding every 24 hours at first, and as the starter becomes more active, the schedule changes to suit the fermentation strength.  I've always had sucess with this method.   The intial breads taste like apple.  Good luck, Tony.

Yumarama's picture

This is Debra Wink's famed Pineapple Starter instructions in photo blog form. I did follow it and also did a straight up flour & water starter at the same time to comapre the two.

No one has got back to me to say it didn't work but plenty have said it did. See if you can follow along with where you got and spot any major differences.



wwiiggggiinnss's picture
wwiiggggiinnss (not verified)

Peter's never worked for me either, likely due to my incompetence at the time.

I use Nancy Silverton's, even if many in the artisan community say it's overdone (too much wasted flour). 

Hamelman's rye starter also worked well for me.

maybaby's picture

The best wild yeast starter I had going was using your average run of the mill sourdough starter recipe (very wet) and covering with a single layer of cheese cloth and set it outside on my porch for a couple of hours. Amazing flavour from the addition of wild yeasts from the air outside.

Mira's picture


I had the same problem as you.  I followed his instructions and diligently aerated 3x a day; still no expansion.  So I tossed it out and started with Debra Wink's method. 

From my many readings online and some advice here, I also decided to:

- feed in 12 hour intervals (I will be doing this until I reach the 2 week mark.  Starter is on the kitchen counter)

- feed 1:2:2 ration (using a scale, I'd weigh 1 part starter to 2 parts water and 2 parts new flour).

- incorporate some organic rye flour every so often into my AP flour addition.

This seems to be working for me so far....

Good luck:)

lilo's picture

Thanks for the advice.  I have started Debra Wink's recipe, and I hope it works. 

When you try and expand your starter, do you always get rid of some of the old starter?  I have been reading on how to maintain a starter, but am confused on how to actually expand it, if I am to discard half or my current starter each time I feed it.

Does everyone weigh their rations or can I do a cup for cup type measurement?

JoeV's picture

I'm amazed at how challenging some writers have made it for the average person to make a starter. The pioneers did it without the benefit of science, and without the benefit of a half dozen authors of bread books each selling their method as the easiest and fastest method. Maintenance is another area where there is more conflicting information than you can shake a stick at. While there is science behind the process, one need not be a rocket scientist to have success. Deb's pineapple juice solution is currently the method that meets with the greatest success, and while some might find her process of development to be of interest, it's not really important to understand it to be successful...just DO IT! I was a newbie bread baker when I read about the pineapple method on over two years ago, and I had a starter inside of four days. Twenty-six months later its still alive and kicking, in spite of the neglect it gets from me. Each and every time it bounces back, even when the hooch is 1/2" thick on top of it. Following Deb's plan is the way to go, but if you feel adventurous, you can try everybody else's recipes if that floats your boat.

When building up your starter for a big bake (expanding), you don't need to toss half each time if the starter is vibrant, meaning that it's growing nicely within 12 hours. I do two feedings a day when building, and I just add equal amounts (by weight) of flour and filtered water. Yes, filtered water. I found that I get better results with water that has gone through our Brita filter jug in the fridge. It gets out all that crappola the local water department puts in the water that's supposed to be good for us and keep us from dying or spending hours on the pot, but in the process it attacks the bacteria, especially in the late Summer when the chlorine is so high you can smell it (they're trying to kill the algae that grows in our water source each Summer). I like working by weight, because with equal parts of water and flour, I can weigh out my starter when I start baking, and deduct `1/2 of the weight of each ingredient from the base recipe. That's the beauty in a 100% starter.

I cage my starter (it's alive, you know) in a 1/2 gallon plastic jug, and put it away with about 2-3 cups of starter in the jug. I have left it in the fridge for a month without feeding it, and when I take it out I toss half, feed it, and in 8 hours it's back to being all bubbly and happy. Reactivation after being in the fridge for awhile is the ONLY time I toss half and rebuild from there, and my family and I are still alive to talk about it. I think all that toss half stuff came from one of the flour mills trying to sell more flour.I f you want to feed it more often there's certainly nothing wrong with that, but don't obsess over feeding it if you let it go for awhile. As long as it's in the fridge, it's gonna be fine.

Working by weight is my preferred method, but if you want to work by volume, then it's fione to do so. Volume measurements are more likely to give you a soupy mix, but you can always firm it up with some additional flour, which will just continue to feed it.

Have fun with your baking, and don't let the obsessive-compulsives get you into a tizzy. Bread is easy and forgiving, and most importantly, you can eat your mistakes.

Here's my starter fully expanded for a big baking session...

wwiiggggiinnss's picture
wwiiggggiinnss (not verified)

A neat fast-motion video on Dan Lepard's site shows a sourdough starter coming alive from a piece of old, frozen sourdough starter.

These starters really are resilient once get one going.


trailrunner's picture

I take mine out once a week...then again sometimes it doesn't come out for 2 -3 months ! Here it is when I took it out this AM and then 2 hrs later...I feed it a "plop" of four and a " plop" of water. It stays beautifully bubbly and I never worry anymore. I used to but learned, as Joe says that it is a resilient being. I have two actually...neet Alto and Sax. I rarely discard anymore and I don't keep more than 2 c as mine grows so fast. GOOD LUCK this time on yours. c

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Mira's picture

I agree with the others here; if you're keeping it in the refrigerator, you don't have to feed and toss on a daily basis. Because I'm still building mine in this 2-week phase, I'm keeping in on my kitchen counter and feeding and tossing twice daily. 

If you don't throw some of the old starter away, you would have too much to know what to do with it!  I've been tossing away old starter and only reserving 2 oz; from there I add 4 oz bottled (or filtered) water and 4 oz new flour.  That makes 10 oz, more than enough for one recipe.  I do this on 12-hour intervals.  Once I hit the 2 week mark, I'm going to bake some bread with it and keep it in the refrigerator.

I'm also a bit obsessive about weighing everything on my digital kitchen scale.  I learned this from learning how to make pastry earlier this year; different flours have different weights, and depending on how you scoop the flour in a measuring cup, you never know if you're overscooping or underfilling.

PS - I am VERY NEW at this..I tend to get obsessive over learning any new hobby or new skill...I don't have the experience to offer advice at this stage, but I've just been reading soooo much and trying to find my own truth amidst the sometimes conflicting advice that's out there, and so I seemed to have found a "system" that works for me and so I wanted to share it with you:)  As JoeV writes, people have been doing this for a very long time without the benefit of science or the internet:)

Good luck, maybe we can share photos of our first sourdough bread made with our own starters:)

lilo's picture

I am on day 5 of Debra Wink's recipe, and I still have nothing.  I know I am new at this, but I really don't understand how I can mess up measuring ingredients. 

How much should it have grown once I take 1/4c starter+1/4flour+2Tbs water? I may have a couple of bubbles, but it definitely isn't doing much. 

JessicaT's picture

is still in its baby stages. It took mine about 7-10 days to stop stinking horribly and really take off. I found what worked for me was to stir several times a day, then when you notice small bubbles, discard all but about 20g's and feed a 1:2:2 ratio. Mini Oven also taught me to keep track of when my starter peaks, and to feed accordingly to that. I did this for about a month and a half and when I started to feed it up to three times a day, I knew it was strong enough to put in the fridge and by then, it was already raising bread quite well. 

lilo's picture

I have been aerating it a few times a day.  Is it supposed to smell bad?  It never has had a bad smell.  Does that mean there is no yeast?

The starter is sort of sticky.  I noticed on day 4 when I added 1/4c of starter+1/4 flour+2T water that it became sort of like a paste.  Is that the correct consistency or do I need a little more water? 

I don't know if I am just being impatient, or if I should just start over. It is now day 6, and I don't detect any change.