Taking care of your sourdough starter is part of Sourdough Starter 101 course.
I say the first 7 days are the hardest. You don't know how the culture behaves, why it's not responding, or when it will finally give signs it's alive.
After your culture pass the mark of 7 days, it gets easier. After 14 days, your starter is probably established and taking care of it should be a piece of cake.
Feeding your starter
How many times per day should I feed my starter?
Once your sourdough starter is fully active (usually after 10 to 14 days), feed it once a day if stored at room temperature.
You can use your refrigerator to make the feeding once a week if you don’t bake as often.
I forgot to feed my starter on time, what do I do now? Did I kill it?
You probably didn’t kill your culture, as it is a very resilient being.
In case you forgot to feed your starter for one day, or only remembered to feed it several hours after the recommended time, don’t worry.
Feed it as usual as soon as you remember. In almost all cases, it will be all right after 2 or 3 feedings.
Try not to forget for more than 24 hours on the first few weeks, as it’s still growing stronger and is more susceptible to bad bacteria/mold. But after it builds enough strength, mildly neglecting your starter won’t kill it.
Why do I need to discard half my starter every feed?
It’s basically to not have your kitchen taken over by a massive amount of sourdough culture.
I know, it seems so wasteful to throw it away! But do it, or you’ll have to spend even more flour in feedings.
The good news is after your starter is established, there are lots of recipes that can be made using what you would discard, like pizza sourdough pie crust, waffles and even tortillas with sourdough discard.
Storing in your fridge
How do I use my refrigerator to reduce my sourdough starter feedings?
I don't recommend storing your starter in your fridge before it completes 1 month. Cold temperature slows down fermentation, and I like to give mine a full month in room temperature for it to thrive and become super active for baking.
After 1 month, you can store your starter inside your fridge.
Store your starter in a jar you can close with a lid, give it one hour after feeding at room temperature, then close the jar and store it in your refrigerator.
Your sourdough starter won’t rise significantly in the fridge (some won’t even rise at all).
Although it is said that you can feed once a month a starter stored in a fridge and it will live, I like to feed mine once a week to keep it active.
If storing your starter in the fridge, when using it again for baking, you may need to feed your starter twice before it doubles in size.
Activity of your starter
Why my starter doesn’t have as much activity as it should?
Each starter is unique, and a combination of many factors.
That said, check your ingredients, the temperature around your starter, if you’re feeding it twice a day in the beginning.
Not feeding it enough, using water with high amounts of chemicals and leaving it in a cold spot might affect fermentation activity.
Why did my starter activity stop?
In the first couple of days of your culture, you may see a surge in fermentation activity, that died off or diminished significantly after one day. That’s common, and it’s probably caused by other yeast and bacteria that will eventually die off.
So don’t think your starter has died: keep the feeding schedule and you’ll see the activity back in a couple of days.
If your starter is older than 1 month and suddenly its activity died off, check if the temperature is not too cold. Also, check if you or someone in your home haven't accidentally baked your starter.
When will I see activity?
It takes 2 to 3 days to see any activity. If there’s no activity after day 4, try moving your starter to a warmer place, and check the quality of the water/flour you’re using.
Should I clean my starter's jar?
I like to clean its jar from time to time. Once every 2 months, I place my starter in another jar while cleaning the one it stays in.
I recommend cleaning it with only water. Avoid soaps, bleach or any chemical. If there's a lot of dried starter on the sides, scrape it down with a spoon or knife, discarding it afterwards.
After cleaning, return your starter to the jar and feed it.