The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Did adding friends start hurt my own??

Mylissa20's picture

Did adding friends start hurt my own??

I have been baking whole wheat sourdough for a few years with great results.  About a month ago, my loaves suddenly stopped rising during the final proof.  There is just no oomph left in the start.  When I feed the start, it bubbles up nicely, and increases about 50% the original amount, but doesn't ever double.  No oven spring whatsoever.  I wish I could pinpoint the problem, but I have tried powerfeeding, countertop feeding, refrigerator feeding, everything I can think of, but nothing seems to help.  The only thing I can think of that might be a factor is that a friend of mine gave me some of his starter a month or two back to add to mine.  He has an heirloom starter and I thought it would be cool to take part in that "legacy" (am I a bread geek or what?).  I am remembering now that his loaves never turned out as well as mine, could that be the problem?  How do I fix it???

Gorgeous WW Sourdough loaves

Sad little WW Sourdough loaf

cranbo's picture

Mylissa20, sounds like you're experienced and you've tried a lot. 

I do suspect there might have been some unfriendly "nasties" in the sourdough that you received from your friend that started competing with your nice starter. 

Some more questions:

  1. What is your feeding schedule?

  2. How exactly do you refresh your starter? 

    1. How much starter (seed) do you keep?

    2. How much flour + water are you adding? 

    3. What is the hydration of your starter?

  3. What temperature do you keep your starter & where do you keep it?

Info on all of these will help others to provide additional feedback on possible fixes. 

Have you tried a small refresh, i.e., take about 1 tbsp of starter, dissolve in about 200g flour + water amount of your choice? You may want to do this separately and see what happens. 

Another thing to try is taking a bit of starter separately, adding a bit of unsweetened pineapple juice (to help enhance & restore acidity), and feeding as usual. Search TFL for other threads about pineapple juice and starter. A lot of people like this method, and the more I read about it, the more convinced I am that this is a more sure-fire way to build a starter. It's worth a try to see if it will help you to restore your starter too. 


Mylissa20's picture

I keep my start as a refrigerator start, so I feed it every other day.  I am not "professionally" precise with the feeding, except right before I bake with it.  I believe my hydration is 100% but i've never paid attention to the math.  I feed equal weight water and flour.  I admit that I go more on intuition than exact weight.  I live in a very dry state, and I go more for consistency of the start than exact weight. 

I have tried taking my start down to one tablespoon each feeding over the course of 3 days to try and flush out any nasties, (which has worked well in the past) but no luck.  I just read on Sourdough Home Mike's similar method, only he whisks in the start to add as much air as possible to the mix.  I might try that today. 

I am also intrigued by your pineapple juice idea.  Maybe I'll go to the store today and pick some up.  Increasing the acidity dramatically might be the equivalent of giving my start a "fever" that will kill off any "germs."  I'll do some more reading like you suggested.  Thanks! Any other thoughts?

cranbo's picture

I would definitely try feeding 2x every day, each time taking down to about 1 tbsp. of starter. Best to probably do this once in the morning and once in the evening. 

In addition, I would try leaving it out on the counter or in a reasonably warm place (60-75F) between feedings instead of in the fridge.  

A 3rd thing you might try (with a separate batch) is to make a firm starter, around 60% hydration, and feeding that for a few days. Certain cultures thrive better in wetter environments, maybe you need a drier environment to help flush the nasties out again. To make a firm starter, start with 10-20g of your liquid starter, add 30g water and 50g white flour. Feed 2x per day at room temperature for 2 days. You can always convert this back to a liquid 100% hydration starter by adding equal parts flour & water by weight (example, 10-20g of firm starter, dissolve in 50g water and mix with 50g flour). 

Using thse smaller quantities will help you waste less while you figure it out. 

Keep at it if you have a strong connection to your starter. If you get tired of the hassle, it may be easier just to start a new one, or get an active one that you like from an online or other source. 


Mylissa20's picture

I guess I did forget to  mention that when I was powerfeeding, I kept it on the counter and I would feed it everytime it would start to receed after a rise.  So at that time, I was feeding it 2-3 times per day for 3 days.  I think I will try the pineapple juice and the whisking first, then the thicker start.  Maybe I'll send a way for a carls starter in the mean time while I try to fix my starter in case I am not successful.  Thanks for lending me your brainpower!

Janetcook's picture

If you are in a rush for a new starter you might try ordering fresh starter from Eric on the Breadtopia web site.  He has both wet and dehydrated starters for sale and ships them out very quickly.  I have used the dehydrated and have had great results with it.

Ordering from Friends of Carl can take time as it is all volunteer and they do not process orders on a daily basis.

You can always start up from scratch too.  I imagine you already know that!

Good Luck


ehanner's picture

I suggest you feed your starter and leave it at room temperature for a week or so. Twice a day would be best. The bacteria will flourish and build in number and begin to smell fresh and fruity in the starter. Doubling easily in 12 hours should be expected.

Once your starter is behaving well, you can go back to storing it in the refrigerator. You only need to feed it every week or two once it is stable.


Chuck's picture

I would have kept the two starters separate. "Mixing" starters will often lead to one starter (often not the one you want:-) out-competing and thus in effect killing off the other one, or sometimes even to the two cultures mutually interfering with each other leaving you needing to start all over.

How do you fix it? You have a bit of your old culture dried and saved as a backup that can be revived, right?


(Although I haven't seen any scientific studies and am not quite sure what to believe, one common opinion is that the yeasties on your flour and in your air and the effects of your water will change any starter within just a few days; that the idea of a "legacy" starter is largely a myth:-)