Starter dead after 1 feed.....


I appear to have ruined my starter. My live starter arrived in the post about days ago. After about 36 hours it had doubled in size and was full of bubbles. Following the instructions I fed it with 50 ml water and 50 ml flour. It has stopped bubbling and smells vile. I am very close to throwing it out. Any thoughts?


Graham's picture
Graham 2009 December 27

At present I am sending starters as 'fresh'. This is literally the same starter that we use in the bakery, baking 200 - 300 sourdough per bake (we don't use any commercial baker's yeast in the bakery at all). The starter is prepared at a low hydration and packed in mix of organic flour and dried starter to help ensure it survives shipping.

It is actually possible to make bread from this starter after one feed, on the day that it arrives in the mail. This has already occured and generally the feedback has been good. The only problem with fresh starter is if delivery is delayed, which sends the starter into an overly acidic state, reducing viable cultures.

Ideally it would be fed within 24 - 48 hours of sending (I prepare and pack the starter at time of shipping). It should still be capable of re-activating after 4 - 5 days, but will require several feeding cycles to recover and be active enough for leavening bread. In your case the starter was active initially, so it is difficult to work out what the issue was.

Dimitry1's advice is good advice to recover a non-performing starter. Please let us know what the outcome is. Graham

tpearce 2009 December 27

I discarded all but a couple of tablespoons this morning and fed with flour/water as above. It smells much better and has been bubbling - more of a fine fizz really than "bubbling".  Should I feed it daily from here on? By feed I mean discard and top up. Hope that makes sense.


thanks, Tony

tpearce 2009 December 28

24 hours after yesterdays feed it appears to have stopped bubbling and is starting to smell bad again. I will retain a tablespoon and feed it again. sigh.

Graham's picture
Graham 2009 December 29

I think a good way to look at this is that the starter is evolving to suit your cycle of feeding. The original starter is really only there to kick-start your own individual starter. From:

"Contrary to myth, the species that grow in sourdough starters are not tied to geographic location, but rather to the traditional practices in different regions. Several organisms go into the mix, but the environment created inside the starter from the combination of flour, temperature and maintenance routines is what determines which ones will thrive."


If you prefer to feed on a once daily cycle, keep your starter cool (say 8C to 18C) and not too wet. A starter that is highly active (strong bubbling) will burn out quickly...either use most of it at this stage to make bread, or discard most of it, feed the remains, and start the growth cycle again.

To illustrate this point, I sometimes mix (feed) a starter at 28C - 32C, and make it wet (about 100/125 flour/water, or 125% hydration). Maturity is reached in only 4 - 5 hours...beyond this the starter burns itself out...consuming sugars and producing by-products that degrade living conditions for viable sourdough.

This is an extreme example, not sure about your exact circumstances, but maybe 'burn out' is a factor(?)

tpearce 2009 December 29

Thanks. All of that makes sense. I have been feeding about 18 hourly, and by feeding I mean discarding and replacing. Also making the starter a little thicker. Today's feed has resulted in a volume increase of about 33% in 5 hours which has now slowed down. It looks like I am heading in the right direction. I will try regular 12 hour feeds until I get explosive starter and then bake some bread. Does that sound like the right plan?



rossnroller 2009 December 30

That's a fascinating read. I notice it's been nominated as one of the best posts of 2009 on TFL, and reading through it just now, I can see why.

Graham's picture
Graham 2009 December 30


I will try regular 12 hour feeds until I get explosive starter and then bake some bread. Does that sound like the right plan?[/quote]


Sounds good. Let us know how it goes.


Rossnroller...agree...a brilliant post!

tpearce 2009 December 31

Starter is now thriving after a couple of days of 12 hourly feeds. First bread was baked this morning and I'm happy to call it a success - a little underproved perhaps but I was worried that I'd never get the loaves off the floured tea towel!!



And the taste - It is absolutely fabulous. Thanks to all for their help


LeadDog's picture
LeadDog 2010 January 1

 That is what we like, a happy baker!  They look good and if they taste great what more can you ask for?

tpearce 2010 January 2

All I need now is for my new bannetons to arrive. And for me to rationalise the 4 separate jars of sourdough around the fridge and kitchen.........

ledu1000 2010 January 2


My name is Patricia, and I live in Mexico, here we are like a baby that it is giving his first steps on learning how to walk about Baking Sourdough, and about starters, also we do not have the same quality of flours as you do over there, so, it is even harder for us.

I had been trying to work on my starter, and was having the same problem than tpearce, so, I will do as you have advised him, and will try to make my first loaf of bread.

I congratulate to all the team of this fantastic web site!!! and yes, also I thank to Graham for that link at the Fresh Loaf I have a lot to study and to practice as well.


I wish to all of you a wonderful New Year!!! full of blessings from the Lord  and good things.



Gypsyesquire 2010 January 2

 I started my mother sponge with starter I got when I was in San Francisco.  I made one loaf and it turned out kind of flat (I think it's because I misread the recipe and used one cup less flour and 1/2 cup less water than I was supposed to).  THEN, I left my mother AND baby sponge in the oven to keep them warm in a cool country house and when I preheated my oven to over 400 degrees, I forgot to take them out.  I think they were in there for about 10-15 minutes. There hasn't been a lot of bubbling, but I don't think I killed them. I made another loaf out of the baby sponge (with the still wrong proportions--one cup less flour and 1/2 cup less water), but a little bit more commercial yeast.  It came out a little less flat, but still pretty flat (like a flying saucer).  I cut it in half and made a pizza out of both sides and it was mighty tasty. What should I do?  I took a cup of the mother sponge out this evening and fed the mother sponge and started prepping the baby sponge with the right amount of flour and water.  Should I give it one more go?

luv2bake 2010 January 13

I guess since I'm new here and this is my first post that I probably don't really need to ask but I will anyway. 

I've made many starters with some working and some not but most of the time it was because I didn't feed it well or too much flour/water, etc.  I'm not sure why people have problems keeping them going or even starting it themselves.  I mean this method has been used since human beings began baking leavened bread so you'd think us "modern" peeps wouldn't have an issue with it.  Like I said I just don't understand.


While I and my family have made starters for others, in honest last night was my first baking of a loaf I'll post in a separate entry but it came out exactly as I had intended and the only recipe I followed was one in my own head.  The rising times (2 risings) and kneading/shaping I all did as I saw fit and not according to some written time.  Of course I've been baking regular wheat and white breads for a while too (with store-bought yeast) so I somewhat knew what size and texture it should be.


FWIW and to the point.  As long as you have a tablespoon or two left of viable starter, just put it in a clean container and start feeding.  I frankly usually feed only once per day even in the beginning and the starter is always bubbly and has the "correct" smell and viscosity.


Happy baking everyone! :)



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