a Sick starter...? Help!



I've just joined this community out of desperation.

I've been making bread from a homemade starter for about 3 years and have finally (sort of) got the hang of it. Or so I thought.

I recently went away for two weeks and had a friend feed my starter once while away. I'm fairly rough and ready with my starter so don't know hydration rates etc. Generally it sits in the fridge, is about 5/600 mls and is fed with strong white and a little rye whenever I make bread - usually every second or third day - and is fairly wet, like a thin porridge. I have gone away before and had it fed only weekly or even less frequently and had it slow down on return and take a while to get really moving again.

This time, however, after getting back, I fed it once and then made a loaf the next day, and fed it again as usual. This first loaf back had a wonderful rise, though there was a large hole under the top crust, which is a bit unusual for me (my loaves tend to have very even, small holes).

Since that loaf, I've made 3 or 4 more and they've all had much slower first and second proofs (first proof 12 hours in bowl, second 12 hours in banneton in fridge) and NO oven spring. Even more worrying, the problem seems to be getting worse rather than better. Each loaf seems to have less and less rise.

Any ideas why this may be happening and how I can rectify? The starter seems fine and smells yeasty...

Many thanks in advance, Scott

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