discarding part of starter


Hi.  I just discovered this wonderful blog yesterday as I have just started to experiment with sourdough.  I made my first ever starter yesterday and was using Yoke Mardewi's great book but on starting the starter found I had so many questions which she didn't really answer in her 'starting the sourdough starter' page.  I am wondering if it needs to be covered in some way while it is doing it's thing and also do you need to discard part of it each day or can you put it in different bowl/jar and do another lot for another loaf of bread?  (I still have heaps of research to do but will ask the forum for 'live' advice from 'experts' ) :)   As we live out of town and only have organic wholemeal flour that is what I am using until I can get some good rye.  (is spelt OK as I have that too?)

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farinam's picture
farinam 2012 January 27

Hello sourteddy,

You can't go far wrong if you read and follow SourDoms beginners blogs on this site.

The starter should be covered in some way to prevent drying and the arrival of unwanted mould spores etc.  Generally people use a wide necked jar with a loose fitting lid (plenty of typical pictures on site).  You could just use plastic film if all else fails.

While you are establishing your starter there is not much point keeping the discards until it is reliably active.  I know it sounds like a terrible waste but it is in the best interests of the culture to encourage the desirables and to weed out the undesirables.

Once the starter is established, most people keep their stock in the fridge.  When you want to bake, you take some of your stock and feed that to create your loaf starter and also feed your stock to keep it going (at a reduced rate) in the fridge until next time.  With this regime, there is no waste other than through the establishment period.  If you don't want to make bread, there are always things like crumpets and pancakes and English muffins that can keep the starter turning over.

Let us know how you go.


kflynn59 2012 January 29

I am still fairly new to it all - a few months. For Christmas I was given a great book, Tartine Bread by Chad Robertson from the Tartine bakery in San Francisco which looks and sounds amazing (I am unlikely to go, living in Nottingham UK). The book has really helped me to understand each stage of fermentation and feel more in control of the whole process.

sourteddy 2012 February 2

Thank-you for this and I will look out for this book.  My first attempt at the sourdough starter was a mega flop by the way! After the 3rd day following all the instructions, I went to feed it again and nearly passed out from the smell...(I asked my husband how he would describe the smell and he said 'whoa...toxic!!!'  So out it went and we'll start again with fresh, in-date rye flour I think.  I checked out the date on the packaging of the wholemeal organic floor I had and had used and it is a little out of date...oops, what can I expect I guess!  I will start the new batch today! :)

kflynn59 2012 February 4

good luck - when you do get the hang of it I am sure you'll be trying to make the perfect country bread, but just thought I'd say that there are some fantastic recipes on this site for easier breads too : pittas, bagels,English muffins, pancakes and tortillas. I've had most fun making those!

sourteddy 2012 February 6

thank-you for your message and I can't wait to try some of these things too...but that is if I ever get the starter right.

The first lot I did last week absolutely stunk after the 2nd feed so I ditched it, but realized that both the bread flours I had were a little out of date so put it down to that.  (My partner since has resurrected our breadmaker and has made 2 loaves of 'non-sourdough' bread using those flours so maybe that wasn't the reason after all).  I then purchased some organic rye flour and have been using it and it frothed up really quickly, I fed it, and it got all frothy again and after the second feed it frothed up and had sort of doubled it's size but I had to go out there and then so thought I would feed it in the afternoon when I got back, but it had by then sunk back down.  I fed it again and that was 2 days ago so figure perhaps I should have fed it there and then and instead have killed it?  Have you had this happen?  I am not really good with this forum thing yet so don't really know if I am asking just you or everybody? 

Thank-you and happy bread making

farinam's picture
farinam 2012 February 6

Hello again Sourteddy,

Patience is the name of the game.

I think it is unlikely that you have 'killed' anything.  After a feed, the starter will rise and eventually collapse as the rate of gas production from the declining food supply falls below the rate of escape.  However, the yeasts etc do not die, they just become dormant until a new supply of food turns up.

The other thing that happens when you are developing a new starter is that different species of yeasts and bacteria can become dominant for a while  and show a burst of activity and then can decline suddenly before being replaced by others.  The starter development regime of feeding and discarding is intended to create conditions favourable for the desirable beasties and to discourage the undesirable ones.  So even though you might get an event that smells 'funny' - vinegar/acetone - you should persist and you will probably find that with a couple of more cycles of discard and feed and the nasties will have gone away.  It is also common for there to be a burst of activity early in the piece followed by a period of, seemingly, not much happening.  Once again, you need to press on through it.

These are the reasons that the methods detailed by SourDom and others extend over ten to fourteen days.  While it is possible, if you are lucky and the stars align, you might be able to use a starter after only four or five days, it will be at least another week before it has stabilised to be consistent and reliable.  After this, it can be stored in the fridge and only needs a feed once a week or so - or whenever you bake depending on your consumption.

Basically, hang in there.


sourteddy 2012 February 9

Hi Farinam, ta for the info and encouragement and I will take it all on board.  I have to say though that after I wrote last I fed my mix again and kept an eye on it but the folowing day I discovered mould growing on the inside of the jar where the 'froth' had risen up to then left a line of mix when it had dropped back down.  I didn't think that was a good thing and so disgarded it straight away.  I intend starting over and doing Sourdom's recipe exactly to the letter on the weekend,  so I have my fingers crossed and am hoping those stars do align this time :).

Ta heaps and happy sourdoughing


HVHB 2012 February 10

Are you on tank water?  Use boiled or filtered tank water for safer "outcomes."  Then you're more likely to get cultures from the flour rather than your water tank.

Spelt makes for good additions to leavens.

sourteddy 2012 February 12

This is my 3rd attempt and am taking the advice above and am using Dom's recipe for starter which I wasn't before.  We are on tank water so have boiled the water as we haven't a filter.  I am just not sure if he covers it on day one?  I noticed that is was loosely covered with gladwrap on day 2 but thought I would ask about day 1 as I am determined to get this right.


farinam's picture
farinam 2012 February 12

Hello sourteddy,

Always keep it covered.  Keeps out nasty moulds and fungus.

I use a wide mouth jar with a screw top lid that I just screw on for a bit so that it is not air-tight.  Otherwise covering with Gladwrap would be fine.

Let us know how you go.


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