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Starter only has tiny bubbles and not rising

kirschtomate's picture

Starter only has tiny bubbles and not rising

Hi, this is my first time making sourdough starter. Started my starter seven days ago. I went with 60g whole wheat & 60g water, then I discard half and fed it with 60g bread flour (bleached because it's hard to buy unbleached flour here). On the second day it doubled, but then I'm not noticing the increase in volume even a bit. I only see tiny bubbles as seen in the picture. I've tried feeding it two times a day but still no activity. It's not cold here, about 20-28 degree Celsius.

Any ideas? How should I feed it? 1 or 2 times a day? Or should I wait for activity? I'm afraid I would dilute it too much.

Ming's picture

I think a basic rule of thumb is not to feed it if it does not respond. In a layman term, it means the yeasts are not consuming (if they are there at all) so don't feed them more food until they are hungry and ready to produce gas. Bacteria could be consuming the food without producing CO2. Good luck!

kirschtomate's picture

Thanks for the reply! I'll wait for the signs

Ming's picture

I wouldn't wait too long though as you might have to wait until the cows come home and still nothing would happen. If 10 days have passed without any sign of rise, then perhaps start over again. Do a search of a pineapple solution as that method worked for me twice consistently, a real sign of life would occur on day 4 or 5 and by day 7 a steady SD culture would establish. Don't worry about the pineapple taste as it would be gone with one or two feedings. It might help to stir the mixture as often as possible. Also, now with a warm weather, I would put the mixture outside under a tree with a highly breathable cloth to see if you can capture some truly wild yeasts outside. Have fun!

clevins's picture

Feed 2x a day, regularly. A starter begins with a lot of organisms, most of which we don't want. It's typical to see a burst of activity, then a period of quiet as the LAB and yeast take over. Stopping feeding is precisely what you don't want to do. Just keep discarding and feeding. Don't stop, start, mess with temps up and down or other weird stuff. 

Maurizio's approach (linked in my other comment) or another consistent approach is your best bet. 

clevins's picture

This is a great guide to making a starter from scratch, complete with pictures.

A few thought since I recentlly did this myself: 

  1. Keep it warm. I have a proofer so kept mine at 82F 24/7. But if you can't do that, just keep it as warm as possible (under 85F though). Cool temps slow everything down. It will work out in the end, but just take longer.
  2. Either don't use tap water or dechlorinate it (and be aware that if your water provider uses chloramine it's hard to remove). Ideally, though, get some bottled spring water and use that as it's just easier. You're trying to grow yeast, chlorine inhibits it... don't make the yeast work harder than it has to. 
  3. If you can, find some good whole wheat flour, ideally organic. If you can't that's fine. If you can find some rye flour, that's best. 
kirschtomate's picture

thanks a lot for the good points! Your link is great, I adapt some tips

pnguyen951's picture

I could be wrong, but from your pic, it looks way too wet. Maybe much more than 100% hydration? To me, it looks like cake batter, which is too wet. If so, the fermentation bubbles will not be trapped and your starter level won’t rise. If this is the case, get the next feedings mixes thicker, 100% hydration or less and then if there’s good activity, you’ll see it rise. 

troglodyte's picture

Disclaimer: Please do not treat this as "the best way", "the only way" or even "a good way". It is just one of many weird, archaic, old-fashioned sourdough methods.

I have been making sourdough for decades, and your sourdough starter looks very much like mine. I was taught to mix 1 cup of "seed" plus 2-1/2 cups bread flour with 2 cups water. That is 150% hydration - very wet. The texture is like pancake batter. While combining the ingredients, I try and mix in some air/oxygen. I cover it in plastic, giving it a "burp corner". Let it ferment for around 6 to 8 hours depending on ambient temperature and how it looks. It bubbles and gets foamy on top, but does not change "volume" in the bowl. After the 6 hours or so, I take out one cup of "seed" and put it in the refrigerator for the next time. Make it as often as desired. I try to make it at least once every two weeks. 

To me, your bubbles look "right". That's what I see in my sourdough starter after an hour or two of fermentation. What I don't see in your photo is a foamy cap on top. That comes when your sourdough gets more active.

You are getting good advice. It looks right to me ... if you are trying to match the method I use. Be patient and I think it will work out. 

If you want a sourdough starter with a rise that you can see, you can try cutting back on the amount of water. 

Edit, added later: By the way, my current starter is Carl Griffith's 1847 Oregon Trail Sourdough Starter, but I have used others before this one. You can get it free, but it can take weeks for the dried starter to arrive:

I selected two photos for you. The first shows a bowl of mixed seed, flour, and water at time zero. The second photo shows the same bowl after six hours of fermentation at room temperature. Leave me a message if you want to see detailed step-by-step photos.

Bowl at start of fermentation:

Bowl after six hours of fermentation at room temperature:

kirschtomate's picture

thanks a lot for your advice! I tried cutting back water and it looks more like your second photo

therearenotenoughnoodlesintheworld's picture

If you are getting some better results that is a good sign.

All comments are only suggestions as it is hard to diagnose as there are multiple issues that lead to similar problems.

YOUNG STARTER -As your starter is young, the yeasts will be very immature and lack robustness (particularly when your flour or water is not ideal as others).  I can take a couple of weeks for the starter to real start functioning as you expect.

If the issue is just its young age, most starters are quite weak at the beginning and may take a little time to fully consume the feed. This should improve over time.  Particularly at the beginning, it may benefit from a larger gap between feeds. . Let the starter tell you when it is ready, i.e. when you see a good amount of activity you are OK to feed again (I wouldn't go more than 2 or 3 days). Once the starter finds its feet the time between feeds should decrease.  Given your temperature, if you keep it at room temp, a fit starter could be ready for a re-feed in as little as 4 - 6 hours.


I wouldn't go changing your flour at this stage, just be aware that starters at the beginning lack a robustness.  Once they mature, they can handle conditions that are less than idea - you will be surprised at how robust they actually are.


If you don't see improvement in a couple of weeks, this may be a point to explore,  

We use filtered water and when the filter is getting old, the starter looses activity and looks not dissimilar to your results. If you are using tap water, and your results remain less than expected, it may be worth trying some filtered water. 

Our starter is our "canary in the coal mine" and signals when we need to change it - particularly as water quality has varied quite a lot due to weather events and this has played havoc with filter life-span.


Others have covered this. 



Starters are not tamagotchi - sure its all on you but your particular yeasts/conditions are going to have a big say on the outcome. As you will note from the postings here, everyones homemade starter is a little different. And as such, many comments are about what works for them on their starter (including mine) and most comments are useful as guides as a starting point for trouble shooting. I often suspect one of the big divides in starter behaviour is cold climate vs warm climate.

FYI: Ours hates cold and if it goes in the fridge it is a disaster. I tried it twice and never again.  Lots of starters discussed on the forum live on very 'healthy' flours where as ours has always lived on a Caputo flour diet (white & processed). It lives at room temp and it only starts getting sad if we go over 35deg C.  When we do panettone it lives on a 4hour feeding cycle. But from a personal note, my favourite element of ours is it smells of tropical fruit.

Good luck.