Caring for Your Sourdough Starter!

In your hand your are holding a small jar of starter. Before you begin to panic, let me tell you how easy it is to keep a starter alive! All you need is flour and water and it will reward you well.

Sourdough starter is very resilient. It just needs food now and then. It can even live in your fridge for weeks/months at a time without being fed. If you have received a small jar out of the 1800+ jars I have shipped, let me tell you how to care for it.

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Utensils and Flours for Feeding Your Starter.

Here are the items I use when feeding my starter. My flour of choice is King Arthur Brand. This brand is dedicated to high quality and I love it. My starter does the best when I feed it strictly this brand of flour. King Arthur flours are never bleached, no bromate, no artificial preservatives of any kind, and certified non-GMO.

King Arthur Bread Flour is the BEST flour to feed starter. It is unbleached and higher in protein than most flours. In the world of sourdough bakers King Arthur flour is considered the best. It can be bought at most supermarkets including Walmart and online at Amazon.
If you prefer to feed your starter whole grain flour, I would use White Whole Wheat. I recommend using 1/2 Bread and White Whole Wheat flour to feed. The Bread flour adds additional gluten which gives you a much more successful baking day.
Wheat Montana Prairie Gold is very similar to King Arthur’s quality. I buy 50 pound bags from a bulk food store for my baking use.
These are my favorite containers for sourdough starter. Pampered Chef 4 Cup and 8 Cup Glass Batter Bowls.
I love to use these spatulas to mix my starter, Silicone Spatulas with Steel Core.

Feeding your starter! The instructions below are for the mature starter I send along with my cookbook, Around the Family Table, and the starter I gift people.

Water–Do not use chlorinated city water to feed your starter. I have used untreated well water (from 2 different wells) and mine does great. If you have city water, I highly recommend buying spring water to use with your starter.

Starter Container: I use glass measuring cup/bowls simply because it is easy to see at a glance how much starter I have and how much to feed it. I will also use Tupperware Mix-n-Fix bowl when I am doing a big baking day. It is not recommended to use metal for a storing the starter. If you stir your starter using a metal spoon it will not hurt it but do not store starter in metal.

1st feed--In your small jar is approximately 1 tablespoon starter. Remove the starter and place it in a larger container. Feed it 1 tablespoon flour and 1 tablespoon water, mixing it like you would pancake batter. Let it set uncovered on your kitchen counter for 12 hours. You can lay a cover over the top but do not have a sealed lid. You should see a few bubbles in the starter after a few hours. Below you will see a video showing you how I feed my starter. Be sure to watch all the way unto the end to see the 3 jars of starter side by side.

2nd feed–– Stir your starter. You should have approximately 1/4 cup starter. Feed your starter 1/4 cup flour and 3 tablespoons water. Stir it well to combine the water, flour, and starter well. A few hours after this feeding it will be very bubbly and should have doubled in size. If you do not want to bake with your starter in the next day of two, put it in a quart jar with a tight lid and stick it in the fridge.

3rd feed–Stir your starter. It will be approximately 3/4 cup. Feed it 3/4 cup flour and 2/3 cup water. Stir it well to combine the water, flour, and starter well. After this feeding you should have a little over 2 cups of starter and you can bake with it!!

Feeding Ratio–always remember this ratio when feeding your starter. 1 part starter 1 part flour and 2/3 part water. This means if you have 1 cup starter you will feed it 1 cup flour and 2/3 cup water. So if you have 4 cups starter you will feed it 4 cups flour and 3 cups water. The reason for using this ratio is that you want to have enough food for the bacteria to eat without starving. If your starter is fed correctly it will have a sweet yeasty smell. If it has an extremely sour smell that will tell you if is starving and the bacteria is dying off.

How much starter should I start feeding to bake with? I start with 1/4 cup or 1/2 cup starter because after I feed it 3 times using the above ratio I have plenty to make bread. If you want to do a big baking day with multiple recipes start with 1 cup. If you start with 2 cups starter and feed it 3 times you will end up with 2 gallons starter. Feed a few more times and you will have a bathtub full!!! Start with a small amount of starter when feeding as it keeps the amount manageable.

Can I feed my starter as soon as I get it out of the fridge? yes, remove your starter from the fridge and feed it right away. It may look like it is not doing anything the first 2-3 hours but let it set in a warm place and it will.

How often can I feed my starter in a day? When I want to bake I feed my starter 3 times the day before my scheduled baking day. 1st feed–in the morning, 2nd feed lunchtime, 3rd feed just before I go to bed. These feeds do not have to be at exactly the same time but 3 feeds starting at 7am and the last feed at 9pm. This will give you a super active starter and give you a successful baking day!!! If you work away from home you can feed your starter in the evening, the next morning, and evening again. It will be ready to bake with the following morning.

How long do I wait after I feed it until I can bake with it? I have experimented with using my starter 4, 5, 6 hours, and overnight. I would recommend waiting at least 6 hours from the time you feed it until you mix bread dough. My starter is fed before I go to bed and I will mix the dough the next morning which is usually 10-11 hours later. That is what works the best for me.

How do I know if my starter will bake nice bread? If your starter rise and falls in a few hours after feeding it so will your bread dough. Your starter should rise and hold its peak for at least 7 hours after feeding. A well fed starter can hold its peak for 16 hours after it has been fed.

What do I do with the starter that is left after I measure out for my recipe? If I have any starter left in the container after I mixed my sourdough items; I dump it in my starter container in the fridge. You can keep adding to the same container. This is called discard starter and can be used without feeding to make pancakes, waffles, etc. I remove starter from this container to feed when I want to bake again. I will add more about discard starter further in this post.

Measuring your starter when mixing your recipe.

How do I measure my starter? Your starter should be bubble and poofed up like this photo. Stir it well to deflate it. Then I spray my measuring cup with just a bit of olive oil so the starter does not stick to the cup. If your starter is thick like mine you can scoop it up with a large spoon.

Storing your Starter!

If you are not planning to bake for a while when you receive your starter, feed it twice and then put it in the fridge. There is no need to let it ferment on the counter after you feed it. When you feed the starter and put it directly the fridge it will take longer to eat through its food. The starter can remain in the fridge for a few weeks. I have already had a starter in my fridge for 6 months without feeding. I don’t recommended letting your starter go that long without feeding but I did as an experiment.

This Starter has been stored in the fridge for a few weeks.

What do I cover it with? When I store starter in the fridge I put it in a glass jar with a tight screw on lid. The lid will prevent it from absorbing any smells in the fridge.

How long can I store my starter? I have stored a mature starter in the fridge for 3-6 months without feeding. I removed the starter, poured off the hooch, and fed it three times. It made wonderful bread. It is not recommended to keep a young starter more than a few weeks in the fridge without feeding. There is a greater chance that it will starve and die. A young starter is one that has been started with flour and water and is less 3 months old. The starter you receive from me is at over 7 years old.

Drying Starter–If you want to keep starter as a bake-up, air dry it. Spread a thin layer in parchment paper. Allow it to air dry for a few days. DO NOT add heat as that will kill it. I store the dried flakes in a glass jar in a dark cool place. OR after you empty your sourdough starter container, make sure you let starter on the edges, and let it set on the counter to air dry.

Here is a blog post on reviving a starter that was in my fridge unfed for 6 months.
Can this Starter be Saved?

What is Discard Starter?

What is discard starter? After you have feed your starter to mix your bread dough—you will have some left. I put the this remaining starter in a glass quart jar and store in my fridge. It is called discard starter. The next time I want to bake, I remove some of the starter and feed it. If I have any starter left over after I have mixed my sourdough items I put it into this jar. You can keep adding starter to your discard jar without feeding it for weeks.

Can I use this starter without feeding it? If you want to make pancakes, waffles, crackers, noodles, ect or any recipe that takes an additional leavening agent like baking powder/soda, you can use the starter from this jar without feeding it. This starter can also be called unfed starter.

Waffles, egg whites, and dried venison for an E meal.

Do I have to throw starter away? I do not dispose or throw away any starter. I keep my starter in the fridge and only feed it when I want to bake with it.

You will find many more recipes, troubleshooting tips, ect in the spiral bound 600+ page Around the Family Table Cookbook. All recipes are sugar-free and label with the correct fuel. Books can be purchased using this link. You can purchased a book with sourdough starter or without.  Buy It Now.

58 thoughts on “Caring for Your Sourdough Starter!

  1. I thought you needed to feed stored starter weekly. Is that true? I don’t bake very often because it is just two of us so I store my starter for a couple weeks at a time before baking.

      • I have discard in the fridge that has not been in there a week but it has hooch on the top. Does that mean I need to feed it? If I take it out & feed it to I immediately put it back in the fridge or do I set it on the counter for a couple of hours?

  2. So grateful for your blog post here. From what you’ve shared, you can starve your sourdough starter if you don’t do the proper ratio. Well, that’s me. My sourdough starter smells sour. I’ve fed it every day since I bought a 30 year starter off of etsy little over a week ago. Is it too late to rescue a starved starter? Will it get healthy again if I do the proper ratio? Or do I need to restart a new one and throw this one out?

  3. You say in the directions you prefer the white bread flour to feed. Is that THM compliant? I thought we could only use wheat? I’m a newbie so I’m not really sure! Just got the book today and I’m so excited!

    • Thm does allow for a bit of white flour I chose to use it in the starter where it ferments twice as long as the bread dough.

  4. Hi! My starter was gifted to me and is fully AP flour…Can I feed it whole wheat or white whole wheat?

  5. Got my starter yesterday in the mail. Fed it the 1T flour and 1T water yesterday. I don’t see any bubbles in it and it doesn’t look like it is doubling after feeding this morning. Did I kill it and need to start again?

  6. I received my starter today and feed it per the instructions on the bag and left it on the counter but after 6 hours it does not seem to be doing anything- there were two noticeable bubbles but that is it. What should I do?

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  8. Glenda, have you noticed that humidity makes a difference in the starter growing? I got your starter kit and have fed it 3 times and it is finally starting to bubble and grow some. It has been very humid here in Wisconsin, so I was wondering if it makes a difference. Am hoping to bake tomorrow, hopefully the humidity won’t interfere!
    Thank you for blessing all us THMers with help in starting our bread making journey!

  9. Glenda, I just started my own starter per your directions but when I went to feed it tonight, on day 3, it looked just like your pictures but had more of a rotten smell vs the sour/fermented smell it had yesterday and even earlier today. Should I be concerned or start over or is that just part of the process? Thank you!

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  11. I fed mine mixed sealed back refrigerated did this for 3 days 😞today I took off seal again fed it 3 times today mixed it transferred to a larger container. Is it still alive? Do I leave on counter tonight?


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  13. Glenda…I have the Prairie Gold Hard White wheat berries. If I were to order your starter again and use fresh ground flour to feed with, do you think I might be successful? I killed it the first time around.

  14. Just fed my starter I received in the mail!! Nervous!! Really wanting this to work! I feed it three times today then? So thankful for all the info you put out!

    • Yes, you can feed it 3 times and keep feeding it if you want to use it soon. Otherwise feed it a few times and put it into the fridge.

  15. Hi Glenda!
    I received the starter for Christmas, but I don’t know when it was ordered so I’m afraid it was left in the box too long without feeding and now it’s dead. I gave it its first feed last night and 12 hours later there’s no change. Should I order more? Thanks!

  16. Hello, I’m totally new to this, I just got your starter in the mail today! I’m confused by the “discard” starter you talk about in the Caring for your starter page of the website. If I take out some starter to for example, make a loaf of bread, won’t I just leave the starter I don’t need in the jar and keep feeding it so it will keep growing? I don’t understand why, if I need say one cup of starter for a loaf of bread, why would I have any left to discard? Does that make sense? Thank you!

    • discard starter is inactive starter or unfed starter. The only time I discard any starter to the compost is when I am starting a new starter.

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  18. Thank you so much Glenda! I received your 1 Tablespoon of starter and am half-way through day 3 and there are 4 cups of starter already! Now to figure out what I want to make!! 🙂

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  20. Thank you so much for this blog! I am dipping my toes into the sour dough sands for the first time. I was gifted a starter at church today that has been fed with potato flakes and white sugar. Am I able to switch to just feeding it the approved flours or do I need a starter that was never given potato flakes and sugar? Thank you

  21. I am so glad I stumbled upon your blog! I got starter from a friend three weeks ago and have been baking weekly with varying degrees of success. You have answered so many of my questions, especially how to maintain my starter without having it coming out of my ears! I’ve been doing THM since 2014 and love that your recipes are on plan. I just converted the pumpkin bread to muffins and they turned out great. Thank you!

  22. I received the sourdough dried flakes with my sourdough cookbook. Are there special instructions to refresh it? I have NO IDEA how much is in there and if I am supposed to measure it to arrive at the correct feeding formula….please help!

    • The back of the packet should have direction on it. Empty the content of the packet into a bowl. Add 2 tablespoons water.

  23. When I am going to feed the starter 3 times to make bread, do I leave it out on the counter, or put it in the frig. after each feeding? Also, do I need to feed it 3 times if I have enough starter after 1 or 2 feedings?

    • when you are feeding the starter I keep it on the counter unless it is too warm where you live. You can get away with only feeding it twice if it is very active,

  24. Another question: I live in a 3rd world country and have never seen dough enhancer or vital wheat gluten. Also, I don’t have any THM lecithin. Can the Honey Oat Sourdough Bread be made without these? If not, is there another easy sandwich bread recipe that I can use?

  25. I fed my starter today (once). It has already doubled and I have enough starter to bake a loaf of bread (my very first!). Should I continue feeding it another couple of times. . .maybe wait until tomorrow to bake, or can I let it sit for a full 6 hours and then bake with it? Thank you!

  26. Hi.. The starter I received had directions that said to use 1 tbl of the starter and add 2tbls water. I did that yesterday. I did not use the whole starter envelope because it said to use 1 tbl. ?? It did not rise much. Today is day two. I fed it this morning. 1/4 cup flour, 3 tlbs water. Not much rise. Fed again just now. 1/4 cup flour, 3 tbls water. (1:30 pm). I guess I will wait and see if it rises by 7 tonight?

  27. So thankful Troyers in TN carries this! 72 hours and we have tripled in size. So happy and can’t wait to bake my first loaf tomorrow! My grandmother had Alzheimer’s and most of her recipes were lost when I was very young. Thank and bless you for sharing so we can rekindle this piece of our kitchen.

  28. Glenda I’m alittle confused… I’m writing these instructions down to get them in my head and when I get to day before baking to feeding my starter I have morning feed of ¼ cup starter but what is noon and evening feeds?

  29. I just received my first jar of started from my cousin today to begin my sourdough learning journey and I can’t tell you enough how much I appreciate your blog. It is exactly the information I need to know, you keep it as simple as possible, and instead of feeling intimidated by the sourdough process I now feel excited. Thank you so much!

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