One of the major reasons people give up on their sourdough starter is the amount of waste that is required to keep the darn thing going. Starter needs to be fed daily. There are many different ratios used for feeding starters. I have tried several. My current one requires that I pour off all but 4 oz of starter (about 1/2 cup) and then feed it 8 oz of water (1 cup) and 8 oz of flour (about 2 cups). This process is repeated every day regardless of whether I bake with my starter or not. So unless I use the discard in some sort of recipe, I am pouring a great deal of it down the drain ... daily. Ugh.
I love my sourdough starter. I love to bake. I love using active starter in bread. I love using the discard in creative recipes. But gosh do I hate pouring it off when I have to. Because, honestly, my life does not allow me to bake every single day.
We discard starter because if we do not, the yeast will starve. They need the flour and water as food which causes them to reproduce. If you aren't pouring off part of your starter then you are not eliminating any yeast cells. When you add your usual amount of flour and water to the starter, there are way more yeast cells trying to eat the same amount of food. To combat this you could add more flour and water, but things quickly get out of hand and in order for all yeast cells to get what they need to be healthy, more and more is required.
Since all my in-person cooking classes have been cancelled due to the pandemic, I've been doing alot of experimenting and recipe development in my little kitchen. One of the things I tackled was downsizing my starter. I have to say, I'm pretty pleased with the results of my experiment so far.
So here is what I did. First, I fed my regular starter, "Beast", with one variation. As I was pouring the discard out, I put 1 ounce of it in a pint canning jar. This is going to become my baby beast, "Taz". Then I poured off all but the usual 4 ounces of discard and fed it the usual 8 ounces of water and 8 ounces of flour. After a few hours, I put that in the fridge as insurance. Just in case something went horribly wrong with my experiment. To my pint jar, I added 2 ounces of water and 2 ounces of flour. The pint jar seems to be just the right size. This little guy got real active and virtually filled the jar but did not strain the lid. I watched Taz for several days to make sure it was staying healthy. Then I used it to make a loaf of bread.
Now my little jar did not contain nearly enough starter to bake with. The bread I planned to bake required a little over 5 ounces of active starter. And you always need to save some to keep it going. So the day before baking I poured off and saved 2 ounces of my discard in one container and the new usual 1 ounce in the pint jar. I fed both at the same ratio 1:2:2. one part starter, 2 parts water, 2 parts flour. So "Taz" got 2 ounces of flour and 2 ounces of water so it could keep on keeping on. And my 2 ounces of discard for the upcoming bake got 4 ounces of flour and 4 ounces of water. I let it ripen covered at room temp for about 6 hours and then I mixed up my dough. I proofed my dough in the fridge overnight and then continued with the baking process the next morning (a series of proofs, folds, shaping, etc). Taz got fed as usual, and my bread came out beautiful and delicious! Even so, I still have not thrown out my main starter, Beast. Parting is such sweet sorrow....