The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Starter was growing, now it's not

cami1966's picture

Starter was growing, now it's not


I started my first starter 5 days ago with 1/2 cup hard well water and 1 cup old whole wheat flour. Discarded all but 1/2 cup starter and fed 1 cup old AP flour and 1/2 cup well water every 24 hours for day 2. Got some activity and rise during the first 48 hours. Day 3, went to twice daily feeding of same. This is when rising stopped. I have continued to feed every 12 hours for day 3, 4 & 5. Added some extra water because starter was very thick. No rise, though some bubbles. Day 5, I fed same in am, 12 hours later no rise or bubbles. I fed with whole wheat flour to try to give more yeast at evening feeding. Day 6, 12 hours later (this morning) no rise, no bubbles. See picture. My house is fairly cool (68F) for the most part. During the days of rise, I had a fire in the wood stove, and the house was warmer. I don't have an oven light, and the top of my refrigerator is not very warm, so I keep the starter in the kitchen on an inside wall in a central location.

What's going on? Should I go back to feeding every 24 hours to give it more time to rise? Should I feed whole wheat or AP flour? Is my flour too old? Is the extra water a problem? Is the well water a problem? Is my house too cool? Is altitude a factor (I'm at 9200 ft)? These are some of the things I have thought of that might be a problem.

I'm discouraged, as initially I got some activity and rise, and now, nothing. And I'm running out of flour, which is hard to come by in this Covid-19 world. Ditto for trying to buy filtered water right now, so I'm stuck with well water. When I run out of flour, do I just put the starter in the refrigerator to keep it dormant until I can feed it again?

I appreciate any insight you can give. How best to bring my starter back to life?


pmccool's picture

Sorry to hear that your starter isn't bubbling along.  For an in-depth understanding of how a starter functions, read The Pineapple Juice Solution, Part 1.  Then, for one of the most reliable methods to get a starter started, read The Pineapple Juice Solution, Part 2.

For a shorter answer: Your starter behaved exactly as most starters do in the first couple of days--a flush of activity that is driven by bacteria rather than by yeast.  Then it, as most starters do, went quiet as a different, non-gassy strain of bacteria took over.  What you want to do is stop feeding the starter until it shows new signs of life and begins to bubble again.  The continued feeding during the quiet stage does two things that are not helpful.  First, it dilutes the population of bacteria and still-dormant yeast in the starter.  Second, it increases the pH of the starter when the pH should decrease for the yeast to wake up.

The other thing is to keep your starter warm, somewhere in the 75-85F range.  All of the organisms in the starter are more active when temperatures are warm, rather than when temperatures are cool.

So, keep it warm and just wait.  It may take a day or two but you will see bubbles throughout the starter that indicate the yeasts in the mixture are beginning to thrive.  That's your signal to feed it again.  Then wait some more until the starter expands in volume and just begins to fall back.  That's your signal that the starter is ready for a second feeding.  Never mind the time between feedings; just watch for maximum expansion and the beginning of collapse.  Feed at that point. 

Give it time.  It will work.