One of the most common questions I get involves my baking schedule. I never know exactly how to answer this question, because so much depends on the season, the recipe I am making, and my own decisions about slowing down or speeding up the fermentation to accommodate whatever else I am doing.
In all cases my schedule begins the night before the day I wish to mix the dough: that is when I make my first "build" of sourdough. I calculate how much dough I intend to mix the next day, and then I take my starter--which I feed at least once a day, every day--and "build" it (by feeding it flour and water) up to about one quarter the size I will need the next day.
The next morning, if all has gone well, the starter is bubbling and active. I take this starter and build it a second time, this time up to the size I will need for my mixed dough. I try to maintain it at this stage at about 78 to 84 degrees Fahrenheit, so that it will be a "young" sourdough, just starting to be fully active, in four hours. When it is ready, I start mixing the dough.
In the summer, I usually ferment dough for about four hours before it gets shaped into loaves and moved to the refrigerator for 20 to 24 hours of slow fermentation. If I am feeling lucky, and if I start early enough in the morning to miss the afternoon heat, I can skip the fridge and finish fermentation that same day. In this case, it takes about eight hours from the time I mix the dough to when it goes in the oven, and there is a very small window of time that I need to hit to avoid over- or under-fermented loaves; I must schedule carefully in order to finish baking in time to make it to Market. The two methods yield slightly different results: the slower-fermented loaf will be more sour, while the faster-fermented loaf will be less sour and will favor the nutty tones of the flour. You may have noticed this difference in my bread from week to week: if so, it is because I have used different fermentation schedules in the bread you have bought from me.
Recipes that involve rye or, especially, buckwheat flour, ferment very quickly. I have had the buckwheat get away from me many times. These grains need careful monitoring or they will over-proof.
If you would like some sourdough starter to experiment with, just ask, and I will be happy to give you some. You can also start from scratch and make your own--there are many instructions on the Internet. Look for one that uses a mixture of white and whole-wheat or rye flour, water, and no other ingredients. Steer clear of anything telling you to add milk, commercial yeast, brewer's yeast, or anything odd (other than maybe a grape).