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A beginner's notes on sourdough starters

orang3's picture

A beginner's notes on sourdough starters

Hello everyone.  I have recently been enchanted by the idea of making my own bread.  This came about after reading Michael Pollan's Cooked book.  So I started a starter about 2 weeks ago and have been struggling with it.  I am following these two methods: and  And my starters are just not behaving like it such according to the directions.  My effort to troubleshoot the issue has led me to this wonderful forum.  For the past week I have been browsing through the vast wealth of knowledge available here and what I have found is that there just as many ways to start and maintain a starter as there are types of breads!  This is probably due to the huge variability involved with factors such as climate, water source, and the type of flour used.  Thus, my goal now is to learn why I am doing something instead of locating a good set of procedures, which I think will inevitability become problematic due to some deviation from the specific conditions require for a particular method.

These are the notes that I have collected so far.  Perhaps some kind veterans here can provide some pointers and corrections on any mistakes.

  • Mixing flour and water : The source of microbes and the growth medium
    • Most of the starting bacteria and yeast comes directly from the whole grain medium that is used in the starter.  This is contrary to the belief that the microbes are captured from the air around. 
    • Organic rye flour is a great for a starter because it is teeming with live microbes and is an excellent food source for them.  
    • Bottled water is also a good way to ensure that the starter doesn't have to endure any unnecessary hardship (chlorine).
    • The microbes "wake up" when conditions becomes right for them to grow.  This starts when you combine water and flour.


  • Feeding: Provide nutrients for the population of microbes to increase
    • The population of the desired bacteria and yeast should become more active and concentrated with each successive feeding.
    • The ideal time to feed the starter is when the population of yeast is at its greatest.  This will ensure maximum growth and prevent any dilution of your starter.
      • Visual- This happens when the starter has reached its maximum volume and is just beginning to collapse.  However, waiting for a starter to double is not a good visual cue. Because depending on how much you feed it, it could triple in volume or more.  
      • Smell and taste- When the starter runs out of food it will become more sour and alcoholic.


  • Maturing: Waiting for the starter to stabilize
    • The ultimate goal for the starter is to achieve a large and stable population of lactobacilli (provides flavor) and yeast (provides the lift).
    • Natural succession will eventually lead to the correct balance of microbes.
      • The good lacto bacteria will ultimately produce enough acid to kill off the undesirable bacteria(responsible for making your starter smell like garbage).
        • Ideal conditions: 90F and pH 5-5.5
      • Once the neighborhood is cleared of the baddies, the yeast will begin populating the starter.
        • Ideal Conditions-80F and a wide pH range*
      • * In order for the initial yeast population to start growing it needs to be "activated".  This occurs when enough acid is produced by the lacto bacteria to bring the pH down to 3.5-4.  This is also the period where the starter may seem dead and inactive after an initial rapid expansion.  Just wait…


  • The start is ready when
    • It can double itself in 8 hours with a 1:2:2 (starter,flour,water) feeding
    • Make a levain and see if it will float in room temperature water


Ford's picture
  • "Smell and taste- When the starter runs out of food it will become more sour and alcoholic."
  • Ans. --  Alcohol is the natural result of the fermentation by the yeast and the acid is the natural result of fermentation by the lactobacteria (LB).  All is well.
  • "The good lacto bacteria will ultimately produce enough acid to kill off the undesirable bacteria(responsible for making your starter smell like garbage)."
  • Ans. -- True.  To speed up the process of getting the acid start with pineapple juice instead of water.  This is about the optimum pH  (See Debra Wink's "Pineapple Solution")
  • "Ideal conditions: 90F and pH 5-5.5"
  • ans. -- The yeast would be happier at 75 - 80°F,  90°F is too high for them.

See Mike avery's site for sourdough starter:

See Debra Wink's here:


MickB123's picture


I'm also new to the sourdough world so certainly don't fall into the 'kind veteran' category! However, I thought I'd share the method I've been following for just over a week as it seems to be working for me. It's a River Cottage recipe -

I've pretty much followed this to the letter and on Day 8 at 1745 (today) I'm waiting for my loaves to prove, hoping that it won't take 4 hours! I have tried to keep things simple as I think you could easily get stressed out worrying whether you're doing things right. On day 2, the starter was bubbling a little and smelled somewhat unpleasant. After feeding it and waiting another day, it was fermenting and smelled like sour cream/yoghurt. The smell has remained consistent on subsequent days, and although it may not have quite doubled in size between feeds, it was very bubbly/frothy on the surface. I made a sponge last night following the instructions again, then made the final dough this morning. After aprox 7 hrs, it had doubled in size and, as mentioned, the shaped loaves are now proving.

Hope you are able to find a method that works for you!

Happy baking