The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Starter Feedings

KBreadBaker's picture

Starter Feedings

My starter (Sourdough starter from San Francisco that is supposedly 150 years old, so they say) has been a bit sluggish over the last few months. I'm still getting a nice crumb, but the starter is just not that active when I feed it- getting about maybe 20-30% growth at the peak. 

Typically, I feed it 2x a day and had been following a 1:4:5 feeding, but have been recently trying a 1:2:2 on the first day from the fridge, and then 1:3:3 (50:50 wheat and white) for 3-4 days leading up to my levain. 

I know starter feedings are very subjective, but does anyone have a rule of thumb on how to get this starter a bit more active? Should I be introducing more wheat? Adjusting the ratio? 

(I just fed the starter this AM, but can share a pic later today after it begins rising)

phaz's picture

I'm gonna have to say too much feeding - way too much. A good start would be about 122 (sfw) - and once a day. Then keep an eye on it and adjust from there (it's important to note how it does over time so you can adjust feeding when things change - and they will). Too much food will dilute the starter and make it weak - what you can do now is stop feeding and stir 2x a day. Keep doing this until it slows down (less rise and/or longer to rise) then start feeding again. This will allow the bugs to increase in relation to the amount of food available, and that's what we want in a strong starter.

Also thicken it up by reducing water for subsequent feeds. I would add a little flour now to thicken it up a bit. In a few days things should get back to normal (or abnormal as I like to say). Enjoy!

dbazuin's picture

I feed my starter 1:5:5 every 12 ours. 
Since doing this it is just getting stronger. 

Mr Immortal's picture
Mr Immortal

I’m going to kind of split the difference here, and say keep your current ratio, keep your current hydration level, and keep your current feeding schedule, with one exception:  instead of a p.m. feeding, do a p.m. stirring.


This will accomplish a couple things.  It will allow your yeasts to consume more of the available food sources present in your flour, and in turn the yeast colonies will continue to increase in size.  With an increase in the yeast’s population density, you are carrying over a larger (and therefore stronger) population of yeasts when you do a feeding.  Keep in mind that the “replace a feeding with a stirring” method is a short-term fix.  Continuing with this plan for too long will create the opposite effect; i.e. a starter that you can barely keep fed often enough.  At this point, the problems with your starter become a whole new issue (managing ratio vs timing in order to adjust sour-ness).


I like to think of the strength of my starter as a knife’s edge, and I imagine that feedings are a delicate balancing act, in which I am attempting straddle the almost non-existent line between “starving the yeasts” and “diluting (or over feeding) the yeasts”, either of which will cause a starter to become weaker over time.  In the beginning, or when a starter has been stressed, the knife’s edge is razor thin, and anything you do tips the balance one way or the other, quickly and by large amounts.  As a starter ages, or as it heals after being stressed, the knife’s edge becomes wider.  Changes made have smaller effects, and those effects take longer to become cumulative.  Eventually, the knife’s edge becomes a walkway.  Starters at this point are very stable, very few things can harm them, and very few things can change them.  However, that does not mean it’s impossible for a starter to wander, over time, ever closer to the edge of the path, until such time as they finally show the signs of having become either “starved” or “diluted”.

We must remain ever vigilant.  We must never fall prey to the idea that there is either a “one and only process I’ll ever need to follow” or a “one size fits all” approach.  Our starters will require constant tweaking, even though those tweaks will eventually become very small and seemingly insignificant.  

Benito's picture

My starter, John Dough, was sluggish recently and DanAyo offered me some good advice, to build an offshoot starter and strengthen it by keeping it on the counter for several days feeding it organic rye.

So I took a small amount of the starter and started to feed it 1:2:2 using the rye and feeing it twice a day.  After about 3 days I took offshoots from it and my original starter and compared them by feeding each of them 1:1:1 with whole wheat just to see how they would compare.  The rye doubled in far less time easily doubling in 3 hour or less at 80ºF.

So I am now using my enhanced turbocharged starter based on my original and it is back to being fed whole red fife and being refrigerated until I need it.