Cheers to you. You have decided that in fact sourdough isn't scary and you are here. We want to help.
We are asked handfuls of questions daily about sourdough, and most of them are repeat questions. So, why not plop those questions and real answers here to help.
It is important to note that what works for us or someone else might need to be tweaked by you. Sourdough thrives off of the natural bacteria and yeast in the air, in the environment and we all live in different environment make ups. To be honest the next thing to keep in mind is the quality of flour you are using. Try to use good quality flour. You might be thinking, its just flour, but its food. For your starter and then for you.
We are going to dive right in, and do this question answer style.
Q: My starter is looking good and I have baked with it. Now, how do I feed it?
A: I am going to give you two options that we practice here. These are not the end all, but work very well for us. You can either take your starter from the fridge, or counter and feed it into a clean jar- equal parts. This means, take (this amount is up to you, how much you bake etc) 1/4 cup starter, 1/4 cup water, and 1/4 cup flour and mix. This is fed. What you have LEFTOVER in the jar you took this 1/4 cup starter is now considered your discard. :)
The other option is a bit more "measured" and what we practice for the traditional model of sourdough (equal parts is so much easier)
Take a full 1/3 cup starter, 1 + 3/4 cup flour, and 1/2 cup +1 tablespoon water.
But you all, you can literally take two tablespoons starter, water, flour and that would be considered feeding. You could bulk that up to a cup or way more in no time.
Q: What happens if you feed your starter, you don't bake, and you forget to feed it the next day?
A: Probably nothing. You are more than likely going to be fine. I would give it a good feed, and you might notice that its ready to rock and roll, you might see it needs one more feeding before its ready. That is fine! It is very very hard to kill a strong starter after its established.
Q: Do I have to feed it into a clean jar each time?
A: I suppose my answer is no, I would think most folks don't. I do so I can see the growth, there isn't anything already on the "sides" of the jar, and its easier to clean. I view this like getting a clean plate each time you eat dinner.
Q: How do you store it in between baking?
A: I keep ours in the fridge. We bake about twice a week, so when I am not baking I keep it in the fridge. If you keep it on the counter, its warm, and will want to be fed daily. I don't want to feed ours daily. Each time you feed your sourdough, you add flour and water and you are depleting the natural yeast and bacteria. You are essentially diluting it. Now, this would take a loooooong time in my experience, but still important to keep in mind.
Q: How much starter should you keep on hand at all times?
A: There is no magic answer here. You can build up your starter, bulk it up from a very small amount. I would say most folks have at least 1/4-1/2 cup at all times in their starter jar.
Q: If I stir it with a metal spoon will I kill it?
A: NO. I am supposed to say yes. But I don't follow rules. I will tell you that BEST practice is to use something that is non-reactive. I said it before, it is very hard to totally kill a starter that is active and thriving.
Q: What do I do if I am going to be gone for an extended period of time? (This example was 3 weeks)
A: Put it in your fridge and don't worry about it at all. We don't bake as much over the summer and sometimes our starter will store in the fridge for over a month (or several) without being touched at all.
I am going to end this (don't you worry, there will be more- so much more) by giving a quick run down of how we manage/store our starters.
It is monday morning. I want to bake tomorrow, so I take our starter out of the fridge. Yes, it was in the fridge all weekend. I let it come to room temperature on its own, and grab a clean jar. For this we will say I feed qual parts water/flour/starter into a clean jar. Whatever is left in the jar we pulled from the fridge is now discard and goes into the jar. Don't throw it away, don't actually discard it. Save it. The starter comes back to life and I then use whatever I need to make my dough and prep that for baking. All of this takes about 5 minutes.
You can do this. Sourdough isn't scary.