Oh this sourdough starter...
I have always been a reader in this site. There is so much information I never thought it necessary to create an account but, when it comes to sourdough starter, things get a little deep for me and I finally just had to jump in and ask.
I have a starter that is wild caught and about three weeks old. This is not the first starter I've ever done but it's the first in this specific house and it's the first to act like a complete baby!
My starter did all the typical things for the first two weeks - it bubbled and smelled like that good tangy smell. Then it fizzed and has a layer of hooch. I've fed it, I've made new batches of flour/water and mixed in some of the starter for a fresh feeding, and no bubbling like before.
Sure, there are bubbles, and there is froth on the hooch but the starter does not get to that active point where I can use it for bread. I've been reading the FAQ on SourdoughBreads.com and tried doing 4 cups water with 4 cups flour and ¼ cup starter thinking this would give it enough food for it to become active in the morning but just five hours later there was a thin layer of hooch and, by this morning the layer had thickened quite a bit. So then, as per advise from that same site, I did ½ cup starter in 2½ cup flour/water mixture (switching to bread flour from AP now) and watched it to see what would happen (to determine when it was most active). Well, it totally didn't even become close to active. I know it's not dead because it does bubble, just not very much, and certainly not enough to make bread rise. The peak active point was just 30 minutes after mixing the starter into the mixture and there was a layer of hooch at one hour out.
After more reading, I found Linda at SourdoughBreads.com (again) wrote:
"So many organisms have died that you just don’t have a dense enough population to make your dough rise. Here’s what I recommend: Take about a half cup of starter, put it in a bowl with 2 cups each of flour and water. Cover it and let it ferment until you see some activity. Then repeat the process—two or three times, each time, reducing the volume to a half cup. This process will help your starter build up its population of yeast and lactobacillus organisms. Each time you do it, you should see it get active sooner and you should see more vigorous activity as well."
So, it this what I should do? When should I be doing this reduction and addition process - during the "high" activity point at 30 minutes or when there is hooch? Does bread flour vs AP vs whole wheat make a difference? Should I be going by flour/water weight and not measurements? Am I doomed?
It all just ticks me off because I had a great wild starter a few years back that I'd bake with weekly and it was so wonderful but it was tossed when we moved. Then I had this new baby starter and it's already giving me issues!
Thanks so much for your help/advice. I know questions like this pop up all too often.
Oh, one more quick note, I do not at all understand that hydration percentages and ratios when talking starter, so layman's terms please.