Managing Your Sourdough Starter

Can I collect and use rainwater in my starter? I’m out of bottled water and am avoiding trips to the store as much as possible during COVID-19. I know my tap water has chlorine, I’m trying to find out from my municipal water supplier if it contains chloramine as well. In the meantime, it is supposed to rain today; I’m thinking about putting a container out on my patio table and collecting some rainwater. Good idea, or not?

I got some feedback from a civil engineer for you. If you put your container out after the first five minutes of rain, you will avoid the majority of dissolved atmospheric aerosols (I think this means pollution). Rainwater is slightly acidic and aggressive against metals, so maybe keep that in mind with your container of choice. Good luck!

Thank you. I did wonder about the pollution aspect. I live in the suburbs of a fairly major metropolitan area. I did set a bowl out on my patio a few minutes ago and it’s been raining for at least half an hour, so we’ll see how much I get. I also thought I would boil and cool the rainwater before adding it to the starter. And maybe even use it in a secondary batch of starter rather than my main supply just to see what happens.

Hello - very new to bread making and thought why not jump straight in to the world of delicious sourdough! I got myself a lovely 10 year old sourdough starter from our local bakery and had a question.

When you feed your sourdough starter, do you have to discard? Or is it okay to feed every 3-4 days so long as it still fits in the container? I have made one loaf of bread and also used some starter in a banana bread.

I have confused myself with the whole discard part and if it is necessary?

There seem to be as many different ways to manage sourdough as there are bread bakers using it. I bake once a week (using a tiny amount of starter), keep a very small amount of starter (an inch high) in a small jar in my refrigerator, and feed it very infrequently. So for me, the amount of discard is very small and I feed it to my chickens who are happy to have it.

But if you bake more often so need more starter on-hand or choose a different feeding regimen you may have more discard. There are a bunch of ways that you can use the discard, rather than actually discarding it. If you search on “discard” in this forum you will find a lot of recipes, tips and tricks that people here have posted.

Here’s an article I wrote about sourdough bread baking:

In there I talk about feeding my starter every 2-3 weeks (and there is a video of my process). Since I wrote that article I’ve now stretched my typical feeding interval to more like 6-8 weeks between feedings. Starter is very resilient.

Best starter management help ever! Question: have you ever heard of drying sourdough starter and then freezing it? This would be ideal for me because I don’t want to feel pressured to use it on any schedule but my own. Does it work?

Drying starter doesn’t need freezing. It is a good idea for long term storage though but unless you’re baking less than once every few weeks I wouldn’t think its ideal. First of all rehydrating dried starter can, sometimes, be a lengthy business to bring it back to good health and I think this is actually making a new starter rather than bringing back to “life” an old starter. Some are fortunate for it to restart quite quickly in which case it’s fine but often one can find it takes a week or more which is just about the time it takes to make a new one. By all means dry some out but not guaranteed to make it any easier when it comes to using it for baking. You definitely could not plan a bake until you got it going again.

6 posts were merged into an existing topic: Slow, Lazy Sourdough Bread

I’ve had no trouble with my starter since getting it in January. I keep it in the door of the fridge, and make crumpets every few days instead of discarding. But since the summer it is about twice as active. Yay, more crumpets, but what does this mean? I don’t think the fridge is warmer.
Also, the hootch is collecting at the bottom instead of the top. I’m not doing anything different from before that I know of. It’s all fine, but I’m puzzled.

I got my live starter today. I fed it right away. I can’t
wait to use it.

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One word of advice. Watch the starter and not the clock. Now that it’s been fed wait for it to bubble before feeding again. Stick to this rule and it’ll be fine. If it should go quiet and it comes to feeding “time” then discarding and feeding more to “wake it up” will be counterproductive. Just wait a little longer for it to show signs of life. Till then keep it warm and give it a stir instead of a feed should that happen. Any issues ask first before doing anything. Bit harder to undo a mistake.

It was a hot, sticky June & July in NJ – so not a lot of baking – and I last fed my (refrigerated) starter about a month ago. Is that too long to let it go unfed, when kept cold? Will it happily revive with a few feedings? I probably won’t bake again until September.

Also, I noticed that the refrigerated starter separates in the glass jar with a layer of liquid on top. This happened even when I fed every week-10 days. Should I mix this surface liquid back in, or pour it off when feeding?

Is the liquid clear or murky?

I routinely leave my starter unfed for 6, 8, 10 weeks at a time in the refrigerator. Then I scoop off and discard all the surface along with about 90% of the small amount of starter I keep in the jar and feed with 50/50 (by weight) fresh flour and water, making sure to stir the existing starter (what’s left in the jar after discard) fully into the new stuff. Leave it on the counter for a couple hours to let it get going and then back into the fridge.

Approximately my practice as well. Because I make smallish amounts, I refresh the refrigerated culture more often, but it serves kind of like the bag of instant yeast from the food co-op. Every couple of days when I’m making a batch of dough I take 2 or 10 or 50 grams from the mother culture to start the leaven for the coming bread. When the mother quantity gets low enough, I do exactly what you describe.

Abe, I would say the liquid is murky because you can’t see through it, but it’s definitely a separate layer and nothing appears suspended in it. Kind of like yellowish-greenish “pond water,” if you know what I mean!

Thanks for the reassurance about leaving starter unfed for a long time in the fridge, homebreadbaker! So, to be sure I understand what you do: You discard all the liquid, and also about 90% of the old starter, then you basically begin anew with the remaining small amount. Is that right?

Thanks to both of you. Any other insights about storing starter over a hot summer are appreciated.

If it’s clear then that’s a sign of separation. Murky? And that points to hungry and needing more food. Murky is hooch.

I don’t like to refrigerate too early as a starter should be fed and active before refrigeration. Allowing the starter to mature somewhat builds up the yeast and bacteria to a healthy population and so to the acidity. This keeps the bad stuff at bay. But then again for long storage purposes you don’t wish for it to go too far before refrigeration.

What I suggest is a healthy feed but lowering the hydration a bit and allowing it to double (but not more) before refrigeration. Also wholegrain rye starters are very hardy and I find they can go for weeks before they need feeding again.

Yes, that’s what I do. And also, as @Abe said, after the discard and mixing in fresh flour and water, I leave the jar at room temperature for a few hours ( ~ 1 - 4 approximately, depending on what the house temperature is - I actually judge the timing by smell) to jumpstart the process of microbial spreading through the new “media” before I put it back in the fridge.

Thanks – really helpful info. The last two feedings, I just put it back in the refrigerator right away. I’ll let it do it’s thing until doubling, then put it in the fridge. And I’ll lower the hydration. I don’t have rye on hand, but might stone-ground whole wheat be a better flour to use for storage?

Thanks very much for the good advice. I’ll attend to my too-long-neglected starter and nurture it back to health today!