Starter not very vigorous

I’ve been working on my starter for the past month or so, but it doesn’t seem to be doing much. I used a new bag of King Arthur bread flour and Bob’s Red Mill dark rye flour in a ratio of 70%/30%. I used 35gm of the flour mix and 35 gm of bottled spring water. I store it on the counter, room temp runs about 72F.

Typically, every 12 hours I discard half, and add 17 gm flour mix and 17 gm of water to the 17 gm of starter left over.

The starter is doing OK, but not very vigorous. It doubles every 12 hours, and it creates a lot of bubbles on the inside of the jar, but nothing really on top.

I have not attempted to use it to make bread yet.

I have sometimes tried skipping a day’s feeding, and some days I give it a double feeding (35gm flour, 35 gm water) - it doesn’t seem to matter to the starter! It always smells fine, I never see any hooch or anything weird.

Is this all I can expect or am I doing something wrong? I expected after 3-4 weeks that it would be doing a little more than it is.


Your starter sounds perfectly fine to make bread with. Doubling is plenty of vigor, especially with a 1:1:1 feeding.

I’m not sure what you’re referring to about bubbles on top of the starter, but the more rye flour you use, the less gluten strength there will be in your starter. But that’s fine. Having airy, gluten-strong bubbles on top of or inside your starter isn’t relevant to how your final bread will come out.

As a matter of interest which bottled spring water do you use?

Thanks for the advice. On several videos I’ve seen, other people’s starters get a lot of bubbles on the top surface - I have none. All my bubbles are on the sides. I guess that is OK, as you said. I’ll have to take a chance and build the levain and see if I can eventually get a loaf of bread!!

Just some generic store (Shoprite) spring water I picked up for $0.89. My tap water is excellent quality but just to be safe I had spent the 89 cents.

Had a theory that perhaps you were using water which was alkaline. ShopRite seems to be slightly acidic so that theory is out the window.

How about building a Levain of 1:5:5

  • 10g starter
  • 50g water
  • 50g bread (or AP) flour

Leave overnight and see how it is in the morning. If risen and bubbly then go onto your first trial loaf.

  • 500g bread flour
  • 300g water (plus extra if needed)
  • 10g salt
  • 100g levain

Combine the levain, water and flour. Cover and rest for 30 minutes.
Add the salt (and any more water if needed) and knead the dough till full gluten formation.
Cover and let rise till doubled (not always necessary but for a good visual when making your first loaf its a good place to start).
Pre-shape into a round and bench rest for 20-30 minutes.
Shape into loaf pan or banneton and final proof till ready. About 1.5-2 hours but watch the dough and not the clock.
Bake in preheated oven with steam (if possible) for the first 20 minutes then remove source of steam and continue to bake till a golden crust and taps hollow.
Leave to cool before cutting.

The levain is built. I used bread flour. I’ll see how that goes tomorrow.

About 1.5 hrs ago or so, I gave the starter a good whisking to get some air into it. It seemed to have helped. When I went to get the 10g for the levain, there were already bubbles and even a few small ones forming on the top surface, and it had risen a little bit! Usually at each feeding, I took the starter grams I needed and put that in a new jar, and then added to it the new flour and water, and I do beat it together pretty good with a spoon, not sure why it seemed to prefer the whisk (which is harder to clean!).

Thanks for all your help Abe !!!

Did you take the starter for the levain from a recently fed starter or from the starter after it had matured?

I last fed the starter this morning at 7am. I was not planning on feeding it until tomorrow morning.

That’s fine. I thought from your comment that you had only just fed it and then took some to build the levain. But you did correct!

Take photos of each stage…

1: levain when matured.
2: dough when doubled.
3: at the end of the final proof.
4: baked
5: cooled and cut with a crumb shot.

Do your best then post the photos here then we can see where your starter is at.

Best of luck.

P.s. if your starter has not been fed in 12 hours and it has risen, at least doubled, then either feed it again or refrigerate till after this bake is done. Then we can assess where to go from here.

Ok so my starter had been last fed at 7am, by the time I took the 10gm out for the levain at 6pm, the starter had doubled, so I have fed it again 1:1:1, now at 7pm.

The levain is in its own jar and hasn’t done anything since 6pm, but its only been an hour. We’ll see how it looks in the morning and I will take photos.

And BTW, as I was feeding the starter at 7pm and taking out some of the starter to discard, I did the water drop test and it floated no problem.

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I think, from the sound of things, your starter is ready. If it can pass the float test that’s a pretty good indication its ready to make bread. Don’t worry about your levain as its just one hour in.

I look forward to results.

This morning, the levain grew a bit, but it did not double. I guess I can go with it, but it just seems like nothing is very vigorous, at least compared to some of what I’ve seen online!

The jars spent the night with a loose lid on, in a warm room.

This is the levain:

and it grew a little bit and I got some bubbles within it:

and for interest, after building the levain at 1:5:5 I fed the starter 1:1:1 and this is it:

a little bit of activity breaking the surface of the starter:

lot of good bubbles within the starter:

Don’t use it yet! Something doesn’t look right. Its very slow and I’m thinking not enough yeast activity in your starter. Starter looks better because it was a smaller feed but the levain should have grown much more. Mine more than triples.

How long has it been since the feed? Give it up to 16 hours, keep it warm and then see how it is.

I created the levain and fed the starter at 7:30pm, so about 12.5 hours for each.

I agree with the yeast diagnosis - my starter never does much more than double and it never gets to “frothy” or anywhere close to vigorous. Over the past few weeks I’ve tried various things: feeding it only once a day; feeding it 1:1:1 twice a day (my usual routine); feeding it 1:2:2, etc. It seems like when I feed it more than 1:1:1 it really slows down the activity - just like my levain. I think I’m overwhelming the small colony of yeast I have so far. Maybe I need to keep working on the starter another week or two. I will see if I can buy some fresh AP or bread flour, although I think I’m using a bag that’s not that old. Or maybe my local yeast are just lazy!

I agree that the 1:1:5 is probably working slowly, but a bit overwhelmed.
I personally would use the 1:1:1 in a dough but I’m a bit of a risk taker LOL and have a strange combination of patience and impatience. I’d want to see how a bread dough progresses and I’d be willing to let it ferment for a long time.

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I will let the 1:5:5 levain ferment and report back with any progress. And I’ll buy another bag of fresh flour, although I’m pretty sure what I’m using is fresh - but I have so many bags open I’m not totally sure anymore, and I didn’t think flour really goes “old”.

(I’ve been tempted to sneak in a little bit of packaged yeast I have laying around, but I think that is “cheating” - I’d rather do it the natural way to prove it works.)

I’m thinking bake a yeasted bread for now. Find a nice poolish or biga recipe to follow. Carry on feeding your starter 1:1:1 every 12 hours as long as it shows signs of activity as in the photo. As for the levain… Forget about it for now. Keep it in a warm place and check up on it once a day. See how it fares over the next few days. If it picks up and suddenly shows a big increase in activity then probably that’s what it needed to boost the yeast population. To test it you can repeat the same feed and see how it reacts but only once it wakes up.

Imagine what a small amount of starter would be like in a whole dough when it struggled at 1:5:5.

OK. I’ll keep the levain going and monitor it. And continue feeding my starter. Yes I figured a whole dough would be too heavy a lift for the starter as it is now.