The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Maintain starter through cold weather

jackie9999's picture

Maintain starter through cold weather

I'm looking for advice on maintaining my starter now the cold weather is here in Canada. During the summer my starter is quite active and I can leave it in the fridge for the week and take it out for use on weekends...I feed it 5 (starter) 15 (water) and 20 (flour).

Now it's colder in the house and it's struggling to double - I've been leaving it longer on the counter (12+ hours) but it doesn't look happy. After doing some reading I wonder if I'm starving it? I'm trying 10:20:20 to see if the higher hydration will encourgage a little more activity.  Do I need to find a warm place for it? Is 67~69 F too cold?

LindyD's picture

Hi Jackie,

I keep a firm starter and don't like to refrigerate it, so I had been feeding it every twelve hours.  I'm indebted to Pat (Proth5) for passing on a tip she learned at the sourdough lecture at IBIE: feed it, let it ferment for a bit, then hold it at 50F for up to 72 hours.

I have an unheated room here which is at 50F-60F (depending on outdoor temp) and have been stashing it there for the past month.  It works wonderfully.  I refresh it in the evening after I get home from work.  It's either at its peak, or just a bit past it.  On occasion I refresh it and put it back in the cold room - it's fine the next day.

When I need to use it, I just give it another feeding and leave it on the counter.

Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

To summerize and simplify making comparisons easier; the starter has been on a 5:15:20 (S:W:F) or 1:3:4 ratio and now that the weather is cooler gone to a 10:20:20  or 1:2:2  ratio.    Yes, thinner helps it ferment faster and so does reducing the flour in half (or doubling the starter)  either one or the other would also work.  

If it rises and falls too fast then you might want to go to  1:2:3  or  5:10:15.

If it doesn't rise much with the recent 1:2:2  then feed it once every 24 hours. 

It may take a few days of regular feeds at 12 or 24 hours to get into a routine but as long as the starter is rising and falling before being fed, it will do fine.

jim_kk5rz's picture

Put it on or near a heating pad set on low. Measure the temp. though so that it does not get too warm

jackie9999's picture

Thank you for the suggestions. Rather than maintaining a warm spot for the starter for the season, as Jim suggested, I would rather fiddle with ratio's and feeding schedules as Lindy and Mini Oven have outlined ...this is exactly the information I was hoping for..thanks again!

Mebake's picture

Try including little Rye flour or wholewheat into the mix (say 10%). This will boost more enzymatic activity, and your starter will be happier.


jackie9999's picture

Well I threw it out and am starting fresh ...after trying to revive what looked like vanilla pudding I figured the time would be better spent starting another...I'm trying the pineapple method this time around.

Thanks to all ...I'm not sure what happened to it..but it wasn't coming back to life :(

jackie9999's picture

Well my new 'pineapple' starter is looking good. I was excited on day 3 when it tripled..but then, after reading Debra Winks paper I realized it wasn't the yeastie beasties that were causing all the commotion. Now on day 8 I am pretty sure my baby is thriving.

I'm sure I killied my original starter by using it straight from the fridge and giving it no time to breathe...too many times doing that and it just gave up. So now I've been reading up on storing it in a cold area, not the fridge, to see if I do any better (thanks LindyD & Proth5)

Couple of questions... can I feed and store right away (at the 63F) or should I be leaving on counter for an hour or so to ferment? I don't bake until the weekends and I'm looking for a system that allows me to feed the least amount through the week. I've set up 2 starters for MiniOven suggested... a 1:1:1 and a 1:2:3. Hopefully one will take to a 24 hour feed, or less, sitting at low 60 temps.

Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

Hopefully one will take to a 24 hour feed, or less, sitting at low 60 temps.

It may take longer so be patient with it.  With the cooler temps, storing it in the refrigerator is not really needed.  Fall and spring always present these sorts of problems.  I like LindyD & Proth5's suggestion of feeding and letting it alone for 72 hours.  One or two feeds during the week sitting out on the counter would work for you. 

You are also working with a young starter now that may need a warmer location to get started and get the beasty numbers up.  Don't be too eager to feed twice a day unless you've found a warm spot.

greydoodles's picture

When pulling mine from the refrigerator after a week (sometimes two weeks), I leave it on the counter for about four hours before feeding it. It can take an hour or two to come to room temperature. Sometimes I am nice to it and stir it down when I take it out of the refrigerator. If the kitchen is cool (winter), the container sits atop the refrigerator for more warmth, just far enough back from the center front so I do not knock over accidentally.

After the final feeding before storing it again in the refrigerator, I leave it on the counter about 30 minutes.

jackie9999's picture


This restarting has forced me to go back and do some reading and this quote from Proth5's blog hits my problem dead on,

Craig Ponsford "There is no shortcut to caring for your starter" and Jeffrey Yankellow "Treat your starter right."

I don't have the qualifications to argue.

They both also emphasized consistency - claiming that every time you see a problem with sourdough, the issue is consistency (feeding routine, temperature, etc.)

I have a few starters going now..I'm not taking any chances! I have watched the sourdough tutorials on breadtopia site (they're great) and the one on drying a starter to keep in case of emergencies is one that I will be following - when my beasties are a little older !

My aim is to teach my starter to work in these cooler temperatures. So far the 1:2:3 tripledafter 24 hours (at 63f) so I'm working with it - see if I can get a decent loaf without hunting out warm spots.  If all else fails there is, as was mentioned, the top of the fridge where it is a little warmer.