The Fresh Loaf

A Community of Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts.

What am I doing wrong?

steve817's picture

What am I doing wrong?

OK I have made some starters before, but I have always cheated and added a pinch of yeast to kick start them.

I am trying to make one now without doing that and lets just say that its not going so well.

Day 1 : 1 tablespoon of rye flour, 1 tablespoon of whole wheat flour and 2 tablespoons of pineapple juice.

Day 2: Added 1 tablespoon of rye flour, 1 tablespoon of whole wheat flour and 2 tablespoons of pineapple juice. No signs of life

Day 3: 1 tablespoon of rye flour, 1 tablespoon of whole wheat flour and 2 tablespoons of pineapple juice. No signs of life.

Day 4 : Tossed all but 1/4 cup and added 1/4 cup organic all purpose flour and 1/4 cup filtered water. No signs of life.

Day 5 : Tossed all but 1/4 cup and added 1/4 cup organic all purpose flour and 1/4 cup filtered water. There was a skin on it that when I removed I found bubbles.

Day 6: Tossed all but 1/4 cup and added 1/4 cup organic all purpose flour and 1/4 cup filtered water. It smells like I would expect it to (quite nice actually) but there are hardly any bubbles at all. Just a few micro bubbles.

My room temp has been constantly at about 68 degrees. I would expect that maybe to slow things, but not like this. Should I have continued with the rye/wheat flour and pineapple juice until I saw more activity?

sphealey's picture

It took me four tries to get a starter growing from scratch (organic rye + organic wheat). In fact the fourth one only started growing after I had placed an order with King Arthur for vial of their potion, I mean Vermont Starter (and thus I have two to feed).

So I would say if it isn't growing in a few more days throw it out and start again. You might also want to use an amount that is a little easier to handle - say 50 or 100g of flour.

Most starter formulas I have seen call for the first mix to be left alone for 2 days, then to start the 50% reduction/feeding cycle. I suspect that removing 50% helps to clear away waste products and give the yeasts and bacteria a better shot at the fresh flour.


edh's picture

I too, used to use filtered water, and had exactly the same results. A little bit of life, maybe, for a week or so, then nothing. Turns out my town has very chlorinated water, and the filter doesn't take it out. If it's just chlorine, not chloramines, that your town uses, you should be able to leave it in an open container for several hours to let the chlorine evaporate.

I had to go to spring water to get mine to grow, then it went nuts.

Hang in there, it will grow, sooner or later!


pmccool's picture


I'd echo the comments from sphealey and edh regarding temperature and non-chlorinated water. 

If you have a spot in the house where the temperature is in the 70-75F range that you could use to stash your starter between feedings, your starter will be two or three times as active as it is with your present lower temperatures.  Another poster's suggestion about parking it in the oven with the light on is one good possibility.  You could also place a bowl of warm water in a cooler to create a temporary warm place for your starter.  The operative word here is warm, not hot.  Think temperatures at or below 85F.

Chlorine in public water sources is not your starter's friend.  I don't worry about it when I'm using a fairly large amount of starter in a dough, but for beginning and maintaining a starter I stick to either distilled or deionized water.  This is the cheap stuff that most supermarkets have for a buck a gallon or less.  I'm a little leery of things labeled "spring water" unless they name a specific source.  Otherwise, you're just buying chlorinated tap water from a city somewhere down the road.  The other thing that I don't have to worry about when using either distilled or deionized water is the pH level of the water.  Some posters here had no luck at all using their own non-chlorinated well water, only to find out that their water's pH was too high to foster a sourdough culture.

Good luck with your starter.  They can be real fussy in their infancy and a thing of beauty as they mature.


ejm's picture

It took me 17 days in the middle of the summer to get my starter to work. You just have to hang in there. You might also try putting it into a warmer environment. (The oven with only the light on?)

I used honey rather than pineapple juice but I can't think of any reason that the pineapple juice wouldn't work.

Here is how I finally got my starter going: The uncultured is caged!!

You might also find Susan's post, Wild Yeast - raising a starter helpful. (I did and can't thank her enough!)


SourdoLady's picture

Be patient! Your cooler temps will definitely slow it down and as others have said, be careful of the type of water you use. Stir it often and keep it loosely covered so it doesn't crust over. The fact that you are seeing micro bubbles tells me that it is starting to wake up. If you were to put it somewhere warmer it should take right off. Another way to create a warm place is to put a bowl of water in your microwave and heat it to boiling. Push it to one side and then place your starter container in the microwave and shut the door to keep the warmth inside. It will stay cozy for quite awhile. If needed, you can remove the starter and reheat the water after it cools and then put the starter back in again. Good luck--it will work if you just give it some time!

bwraith's picture

Roughly speaking, at 68F the culture will be about half as fast as it would be at 80F. So, you can expect things to take much longer at 68F. It's not unreasonable to just keep doing what you're doing for a few more days. The fact it has fermentation smells and some bubbles probably means it's working. Good luck with it.

holds99's picture

If you're feeling ambitious and want to have some fun and make a really great starter I would recommend that you read Nancy Silverton's book "Breads From the La Brea Bakery".  It's an amazing process that produces excellent results.  Beginning on page 30 she explains her starter process, which takes 14 days; nine days to grow the culture and five to build the starter.  She uses a pound of pesticide free red or black grapes (to capture their spores) for her starter.  I have made this starter and have used it for many years.  I even, thinly, spread some out on parchment paper and dried it completely in a very low temp. oven (or in a dehydrator, the kind used to dry fruits and vegetables), then crushed it up into granules and stored it in a plastic jar in the freezer (in the event my main starter, in the fridge, went bad).  The granules give you a backup without having to go through the 14 day process again and will last for a long, long time in the freezer and still work great when refreshed.  As she says in her book: "You only have to grow a starter once.  After that, as long as you feed and maintain it, your starter will be ready to use over and over again, any time you feel line baking, for the rest of your natural life".

Good luck,


mikeofaustin's picture

Every time I read about a starter that's failing to 'start', they mention a ratio of 1:1:1.  I beleive it is recommended to start with 1:2:2 mix ratio (old starter:flour:water).  Once it's going, you can drop down to 1:4:4. 

steve817's picture

Just an update. I ended up storing it in my microwave which is mounted over our stovetop. The microwave has a light underneath it that lights our stovetop. We keep the light on all the time, so the heat from the bulb warms the inside of the microwave slightly to about 74 degrees.

I have kept the original starter and started the new one in a similar fashion as the old one. Only difference is that I'm using spring water instead of the filtered tap water, and guess what? I have bubbles in both! Still not bursting with life but a definate improvement.

BTW holds99. I have been wanting to try the one with the grapes, but thought it may be better to wait for warmer weather.

mikeofaustin I thought the 1:2:2 or 1:4:4 was more geared for starters that have started.

bwraith's picture

You're right that 1:2:2 or 1:4:4 is a typically good ratio for maintenance of an already started starter. 

But sometimes, once the starter is bubbling like it sounds yours are, then you could try to feed it 1:2:2 or 1:4:4 and it might take off. You can try it by just taking some of your starter and doing it one way and continuing with your approach with the other. Since the starter is unstable in the very early going, sometimes changing a couple of variables will help move it in the right direction, and then it will lock into stable behavior after that. A temperature of 74F should be very good for getting one started. I would stick with it.

By the way, what is the consistency? A starter fed with  equal parts flour and water by volume will be a very thin paste and will foam but probaby not rise. A starter that is fed with equal parts flour and water by weight will be closer to a paste and should rise by at least double once it's going. If it is maintained any thicker than 100% hydration (1 to 1 water to flour by weight) it should rise well with AP or bread flour.

Also, bread flour will rise well, but some types of AP flour, if the protein level is very low, will not rise very well even in a batter or paste consistency.

Another thing that may kick it into high gear is putting a bowl of warm water in the oven for a while to bring the temperature up around 80F, but no higher than 85F for at least some of the feeding cycle.


steve817's picture

Shortly after my last update it sprang to life with a vengence. It now doubles in size in a little over three hours.

I now use weight measurment instead of volume and feed it 1:2:2 and may go to 1:4:4 soon.

I used it to make some loaves over the weekend and was pleased with the results.

Thanks to everyone for their help.

bwraith's picture


That's great. Good luck with the continuation. It should work fine to use 1:4:4 every 12 to 24 hours if it's doubling from 1:2:2 in 3 or 4 hours. I use about a 1:4:5 feeding every 12 to 24 hours normally (it's a little thicker than a paste - almost firm). My starter rises by double from a 1:2:2 feeding in around 4 hours at 76F, so yours sounds a little faster, which sounds good.

After it has matured for a few days, you can consider refrigerating it for storage. There's no need to do that if you are around and have time to feed it every 12-24 hours, but if you want a rest from baking for a few days, or you will be away and can't feed it, then refrigeration is a good option for storage.

A good way to refrigerate is to feed it normally, maybe 1:2:2 or 1:4:4 but add a little extra flour to make it more like a dough than a paste. Then just place it in the refrigerator immediately. Leave enough room in the container for it to rise by 2 or 3 times. Put a lid on the container to keep it from drying out.

When you remove the starter from the refrigerator, let it rise at room temperature for a few hours. If it has been only a few days to a couple of weeks, it will rise normally once it warms up, and then just feed it when it looks like it has peaked and proceed as usual for room temperature refreshments. If it has been in the refrigerator for a long time - say a month or more, it may not rise and you may need to feed it after a few hours and wait for it to come to life and rise. Once it has been fed once and is rising well, it should be usable for baking. In fact, I sometimes can use it right out of the refrigerator if it has been less than a week. Feed the starter once or twice more to fully refresh it before returning it to the refrigerator.


steve817's picture

So after all this time of baby-sitting it and trying to get it healthy, I was trying to build it up for another batch. I guess my math was a little screwy and I ended up needing it all for the recipe. Once finished, I scraped the sides of the container that the starter was in.

With only about 5 grams of starter salvaged. I added 10 grams of water and flour. The following day I added another 50 grams of flour and 50 grams of water.

It all bounced right back. Amazing stuff it is