Starter problem



I live in London area UK and have been baking Sourdough now for about a year and have made all the mistakes possible but have used all that knowledge and put it  to reasonbly good use. The Sourdough Bread I have been producing are ok and have good flavours. Recently though I have hit a problem in that the Rye starter, that I have had going for a couple of months, now seems to be almost dying.        I'm not sure if thats the correct expression but I used to feed it once a day 50gRye/50g water. That worked well and then 3 days before baking would feed it twice a day by disgarding 100g's and then replacing etc. The starter would be really active and rise to the top of the container and would be used to make a good loaf of bread. I'm following the same procedure now though and it just doesn't bubble and rise to the top now like it used to, and seem lethargic and doesnt inspire me to make Sourdough with it.  Its the same container and I'm very careful with using clean utensils etc and the last loaf of bread that I made with it was flat, with no real rise and not great. So I'm wondering whats going wrong with the starter or what am I doing wrong. Any ideas anyone?

There is one thing to add in that when I went away for a couple of weeks I put the starter in the freezer, as I had read that it was ok to do that. When I revived it it took a week to come back to life and I followed the same procedures and it was all action as normal.

Its has seemed to slow down since then.

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farinam's picture
farinam 2013 June 24

Hello May,

Does the starter get any bubbles in it at all?  Has anything else that you are doing changed? For instance have you started a new batch of flour or changed brands?  Does it smell in any way off or different?  If it does show any activity, over what time span does this occur?

It seems a bit strange as rye starters are usually fairly lively as you said yours was.  I can't imagine that freezing it would have caused the problem, even if some beasties did die off, they should have been well and truly replaced by this or a new batch from the flour should have been established by this.

Sorry I can't be more specific at this stage.

Good luck with your projects.


May 2013 June 24


Thanks for the reply.

When the starter was really healthy it would produce lots of really good bubbles and was lively and active but new there are the odd few bubble's but nothing like it was.

It does smell ok and not off. In fact thinking about it the starter does smell stronger than it used to but still ok. When I feed it say at 7am the odd bubble doesn't really seem to appear for hours after that.

After feeding it twice a day for 3 days last week it was sluggish and lifeless compared to how it used to re-act.

The Rye flour is from a good well known supplier and I'm on a diferent bag now as well.

I'm serioulsy wondering to cut my costs and start again maybe. It would be easy to start again but a part of me wants to get this going A to overcome a problem and B to know that I have revived the starter and can then use it again and knowing its got a bit of history  albeit its only 2 months old.

As you say Rye is normally more active and responsive than Wheat Flour and thats why I cant quite think whats going on with the little bugs!!

Thanks for feed back anyway.


boxsaloon 2013 July 3

Funny - I'm in the UK too and have been baking sourdough for about a year. Up until about a couple of weeks ago, my starter has been perfect. As my technique has improved, so has my bread and I would bake decent loaves with a good amount of spring and good fermentation that would bring the dough up to the top of a good sized bowl. The last couple of batches I've baked have behaved quite differently - the fermentation has 'sulked' and the loaves haven't sprung anywhere near as well - although the loaves still taste fine.

I'm at a loss, the starter has been treated in exactly the same way - I bake once a week and the starter lives in the fridge between bakes and is fed the day before to bring it back to life. Maybe it's something in the air in the UK at the moment? I always feed my starter with teh strong white bread flour I bake with - maybe a feed or two with some rye might liven it up? Any suggestions would be very welcome...

farinam's picture
farinam 2013 July 4

Hello boxsaloon,

I would give adding (say) 20% of wholemeal rye flour to the feed flour in your stock.  I do that on a routine basis.  I also feed a separate levain for my loaf with just white flour which reduces the effect on the colour of the loaf if that is a concern to you.  If I am looking for something really white, I build up the levain from just a couple of grams of the stock by a series of doublings at about eight hour intervals on the bench.

Good luck with your projects.


boxsaloon 2013 July 5

Thanks for the advice, Farinham..

A brief update on progress. I split my starter into two and have started two parallel, but different revival strategies. I have fed both starters with my normal white bread flour but have added a bit of rye into the mix, as you suggested. I've fed them both every 8 hours yesterday. I am fortunate in that I have an oven with a bread prooving setting, that keeps the oven at a steady 37 deg C, so I've kept on in the oven, one on the counter top (it's nice and warm here at the moment, around 70 - 75f during the day). Both bubbled up, but neither doubled in size, but reacted, nevertheless. After 24 hours of that, I've now just put them in the fridge for the day and will review them this evening (after 12 hours..) and repeat the process. The approach is loosely based on reviving a 'barely living' starter I found in the FAQ...

I'lll let you know how I get on..


farinam's picture
farinam 2013 July 5

Hello boxsaloon,

Depending on your hydration, quantity of starter and the aspect ratio of your container, you don't necessarily get doubling (or more).  It is only if the mixture has sufficient strength to support itself that it can rise high and stay high.  A bit like trying to build a bridge across a ravine.  If it is narrow it is fairly easy to cross it with something that is not particularly strong but the wider it gets the stronger your materials have to be.  So it is much easier to get and to judge the volume increase in a tall narrow container than in a wider one.

As the hydration increases the potential strength of the slurry reduces and the ease for bubble migration to the surface and breakage increases.  Both of these reduce the potential rise that might be seen.

Good luck with your projects.


boxsaloon 2013 July 7

2 starters - 1 being maintained at ambient temps, the other being nutured in the oven on bread proving setting. The latter has been an epic fail. After initial signs of life, after 24 hours in the fridge, then warming up again (in ambient temps) and feed ready for another session in the oven, it seemed completely lifeless. No real signs of fermentation whilst in the oven and not nice aroma and an 'early' hooch. That was consigned to the bin this morning. The other, getting more 'conventional' care is hanging in there and showing signs of life, though if I was issuing a hospital statement, I'd probably say 'spent a comfortable night but still in a serious, but stable condition...' Like the other, it spent 24 hours in the fridge and came out yesterday and was fed - twice yesterday and then again this morning. Decent aroma - though not the nice 'cidery' aroma from before..

I must confess to not getting too fixated on hydration levels and tend to vary the flour/water combination to keep the consistency around that of a slightly thickish batter. We're in for a week or really good weather, it seems, with daytime temps heading into high 70s/low 80s and down to 60ish overnight. If they aren't perfect conditions, I'm not sure what is. I'll be baking again this week - maybe Monday, perhaps Tuesday. That will be a test of progress...

More to follow...

(PS - am I able to post photos here? Can some kind person point me to the instructions as how to do that? Thanks...)

farinam's picture
farinam 2013 July 7

Hello boxsaloon,

There are two options in this situation.

First you can store the photo somewhere else on the web (for example on DropBox) and by clicking on the image icon (sort of vaguely scene like at the top of the edit box - about the middle of the icon list).  Then you have to enter the URL for the image which you would have got from DropBox (or whereever you are storing the image) as a  clipboard address that you paste into the dialog box that comes up.

OR you can select your image file and do a CTRL-C and CTRL-V direct into the post - like so.

Hope this helps.



boxsaloon 2013 July 24

Well, after lavish care and attention, I'm back on track. Feeding twice a day and being lucky with warm weather here in the UK, my starter seems to be revived. To be honest, I think the only cause was a transfer to a new jar just before I left it with my pal when I went on holiday, I can only think the jar wasn't perfectly clean and was tainted with something - just enough to slow activity down. Anyway, the real improvement came when I transferred it again to another jar - this time spotlessly clean, without doubt. Schoolboy error..

A few pics so you can see for yourself...


Subsequent loaves have been even better - almost to a fault, but that will be another thread.. Thanks for all the help..



farinam's picture
farinam 2013 July 24

Hi Hugh,

Persistence is often the name of the game.

Good looking bread as well.

Keep on bakin'


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