The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Defiant Starter

Jaymunnie's picture

Defiant Starter

Its been over 2 weeks now and I have gone through 5 starters in an attempt to make a sourdough with no luck.  I only have access to white lily bread flour which is what I have been using.  I have been mixing 70g flour with 70mL water, and feeding once every 24hrs.  I have been keeping the temp around 72F.  I have been discarding half the total weight before each feeding.  I have looked and read and researched to no avail to find a solution to my problem, as it seems that my problem is uniquely different.  No matter what I do, I don't see bubbles, I don't see any rise, and I don't see any activity whatsoever.  It only continues to remain thin and soupy, and smells quite tangy and slightly chalky.  At this point I have no clue what is going on, or what I should or shouldn't do.

Postal Grunt's picture
Postal Grunt

While these tips won't guarantee that you will get the 800 pound gorilla among all starters, they've proven to help my efforts. First, consider your water. If you're using tap water or filtered water from a fridge, buy a jug of spring water, not distilled water, at your local Walmart or supermarket. It shouldn't cost more than a dollar or so. Most municipal water is treated and it's not very kind to new starters. Next, keep in mind that 72F may not be warm enough to give your starter help. Look for somewhere in your house that is in the area of 76-82F. This might be on top of your refrigerator or in your oven with the light left on. That will make a big difference. Finally, try to find some fresh milled whole wheat or rye flour and then add a small amount, 5-10 grams, to the flour you're using in your refreshments. Either flour will add some extra good food for your yeast spores. 

If you get too discouraged, you can always just buy some fresh, live starter from King Arthur Flour or Breadtopia. They will get going relatively quickly and after a few loaves from the new starter, you can focus on your baking again.

Abe's picture
Abe (not verified)

Telling me you've gone through 5 starters in two weeks makes me think it's not luck that's going against you.

First of all are you using unbleached flour? If it's bleached then use some other brand. Secondly, you'll also want some wholegrain flour if you can get your hands on any.

I'll make this simple...

Mix together:

  • 45g water that has been boiled and cooled
  • 45g flour (a mix of bread flour and wholegrain flour)

Keep warm and do not do anything till it bubbles up. Even if it takes 3 days. Once it bursts into life then you start a feeding schedule of:

1: take off 60g and place to one side

2: feed...

  • 30g water that has been boiled and cooled
  • 30g flour mix
  • Once all has gone without hitch then discard what you have taken off

3: Keep doing this feed every 24 hours as long as there is sign of activity

4: if there is no activity then you skip a feed or two (or even three) and carry on when things perk up

5: If it begins to bubble up and peak within 12 hours then switch to 12 hourly feeds and you can up the feed to...

  • 18g starter
  • 36g water
  • 36g flour

6: KEEP IT WARM - preferably 77-78°F

7: Once your starter is strong and predictable then it's ready


It is a good idea to weigh the jar as a starter will lose weight when fermenting and if you keep on only weighing the discard it'll be whittled down to nothing. To be more accurate you'll know how much is left by the difference.

clazar123's picture



Making a starter requires a heft dose of each. It is the most complex process and simple process at the same time.

Mix, stir, wait. No discards or feedings until there is something to feed.

Warmth (80F) is necessary.

After 3-5 days you will see some timid bubbles along the edge. DON"T FEED OR DISCARD YET! STIR!

When there is generally more bubbling or rising (if bubbles are subsurface), THEN do a feed BUT NO DISCARD.

Do this 1 or 2 more times until there is a definite reaction to the feed and stir. What that means is that your yeast population is growing and eating and (Pardon) farting gas.

NOW discard half. Purpose of discard is to "clean their cage". Feed. Stir.

When the culture is reacting vigorously to a feed (rising and falling in the few hours after a feed) start feeding q 12 hours. Do this for a few days to build the culture. Any time "hootch" forms on top, the culture is overly hungry and needs a feeding.

THis frequent discard/feed is why I start with small amounts of flour! You could be discarding a lot of flour if you use large amounts. I use 1-2 tablespoons of flour to start but I a clear pint jar that allows a lot of room to rise.

I accumulate my discard in a plastic container in the refrigerator and use it to make pancakes or waffles. I have also used it as an additive to tea breads (banana Bread) or muffins. Adds great flavor.

NOTE: Most cultures go through an initial phase (first couple days after bubbling starts) of wild activity which is lactobacillus activity and not yeast! Keep going! The lactos are building acid into the culture to kill other unwanted bacteria and favor the yeasts. They are the "house builders" of your future starter.

Relax. Patience. Observe. Let the buggers grow. Just keep feeding and stirring.  Once you do it and work with it, it becomes very easy.

mutantspace's picture

agree with all the above. Time and patience. Wholegrain is always a good place to start. When i started  - in Ireland - it was late Autumn and the house was cold so even in the hot press (where the boiler is) it took 4-5 days before my starters kicked off (and i had loads of jars of different mixes). It takes time....stick with it. once it gets going youll be fine. bet of luck with it. One big lesson for me was dont obsess. It will happen.    

placebo's picture

When making a starter, your goal is to cultivate a population of wild yeast and lactobacilli. It takes time for these organisms to establish a stable population in the starter, and by constantly discarding and feeding, you're decimating their numbers before they can gain a foothold. So what you first need to do is hold off on feeding your mixture until you see signs of life. Second, keep the feedings small. When you feed, you dilute the mixture, so small feedings help the yeast and bacteria maintain their numbers. Like clazar123, I don't discard on the first feeding. And I feed just enough to double the weight of the starter, e.g., 50 g of starter, 25 g of flour, and 25 g of water, until the starter is firmly established.

The other thing I'd change is the temperature. Increasing the temperature up to, say, 77 F, will greatly increase the speed at which the starter develops. Just a few degrees can make a tremendous difference.

Your flour and water are probably fine as is. I wouldn't bother trying different flours or water unless your attempts continue to fail.

Jaymunnie's picture

I only have access to unbleached white lily bread flour due to living in a small town.  It's very inconvenient, and being on a college student budget doesn't help matters either.  Those things aside, it sounds like all I need to do is just keep it warm, feed it a little bit when it bubbles, not discard any, and just wait. 

Abe's picture
Abe (not verified)

For if you don't and you only feed then before long you'll have a barrell full. 

You wish to feed (when it bubbles) 1:1:1 to start with. So if you start off with a small amount then yes the first feed you don't need to discard. But it's the difference between a six and two threes. 

Doesn't matter if you start off small and feed 1:1:1 or start off with a larger amount then discard a little to top up 1:1. It's the same ratio. 

But you have the idea. Keep warm, have patience and feed when you see activity. 

In fact you don't even need to measure. Just get a small jar and eyeball the rest. Make a thick flour water paste and fill up to about a third. Then feed it but always keep it about a third. Just don't over think it. We only give measurements which seem exact because when you're starting off it's good to have a guide. But the process is really simple. Or if you wish start off small and give each a feed each till you need to discard. Since you won't actually be feeding it for a few days then I find just starting off with a good amount is fine. But not too much mind you. You don't wish to go into the 100s of grams. 

clazar123's picture

Your flour is fine to use-any unbleached is. If your water is highly chlorinated, buy 1 gal (usually under $1) of spring water. The wee beasties love the minerals and are weakened/killed by too much chlorine in some tap water.

I started my best starter with 1 tbsp. flour and about 2 tbsp. water in a halfpint jar with a lid that sat on my desk. It sat  by my monitor (it was always warm there). I brought a spoon, a small bottle of spring water and a small Ziploc of flour to work with me.  The culture was small enough that it was easy to transport, always in line of sight, and very easy to feed. discard went in the trash can.  I never measured, I just made it like a thick pancake batter consistency. When it was very active, I started increasing the size of the feed gradually until I had about a half pint of starter in a pint jar. This was enough for me to bake with, at the time.

Further money-saving suggestion- find recipes that are either small (single loaf) or can be scaled to small loaf, esp. while you are learning.  Much easier on the budget.