Q&A: Bob Hess, owner of the online mushroom supply and showroom/demonstration farm Everything Mushrooms

Bob Hess has owned the online mushroom supply and showroom/demonstration farm Everything Mushrooms since 2007. A few weeks ago he purchased his South Knoxville/Sevier Avenue location.

How many pounds of spores are you producing a week?

During peak season we are producing 150-200 pounds of sterilized mushroom substrates a week. We grow our mushroom cultures on these substrates, incubate them, and sell once the mushroom spawn is ready for application in the garden. This could be as plug spawn for mushroom logs, blocks of spawn used to inoculate pasteurized straw for growing oyster mushrooms, or small blocks of sawdust produced as ready to grow table top mushroom kits.

What's easiest to grow if you've never grown mushrooms before?

The absolute easiest project for any mushroom garden is the shiitake mushroom log. You can purchase them pre-made, or obtain the plug spawn for making your own at home. A typical log will produce 3-5 pounds of fresh mushrooms throughout its lifespan of three-six years. With shiitakes costing $12 per pound, pre-made logs can pay for themselves, and may provide some cost savings over buying at market.

What's the most difficult thing you grow/produce?

Lately we've been playing with some bioluminescent fungi. They behave a little differently and don't take to the traditional spawning methods we use for a lot of our other garden and market mushrooms. We hope to have some biolum mushroom kits developed and available in the near future. One mushroom, Panellus stipticus, has bioluminescent mycelium. We can see this fungi glow even while it is colonizing substrate, before it has produced a single mushroom!

Who taught you what you need to know?

My skills are self taught through the available literature, some of which is very thorough. We began by offering a diverse list of mushroom cultures and slowly expanded our offerings to include sterilized substrates, mushroom growing kits, and other related mushroom lab, culturing, and cultivation equipment. We've since added more retail related mushroom items and have continued expanding our mushroom culture and spawn selection.

What will owning the building change for you?

Owning a permanent home on Sevier Avenue is very exciting. It makes it easier for us to invest heavily into infrastructure and lets us mold the space to fit the unique requirements of our product. We hope our presence will enrich the neighborhood, both for residents and for those who come down, visit, and shop.

Do you actually like to eat mushrooms?

I love to eat mushrooms, just not all the time. Mushrooms have a diversity of flavor, from shiitake to chanterelle to truffle. You'll notice we don't carry button or portobello, but that's not to say those aren't tasty too. I'd say my family has mushrooms as part of a meal two or three times a week. During wild mushroom season, consumption goes up quite a bit. We have a weak spot for morels and chanterelles, and generally gain a few pounds in April and August.

What do you do with all that sun tea?

We brew a lot of sweet tea for our kombucha starter cultures. The kombucha is a tough rubber-like skin, which is actually a complex symbiosis of yeasts and bacteria. The skin, or Scooby (scO-bee), is grown on an infusion of tea and sugar, allowing the yeast and bacteria complex to proliferate, producing an acidic and sour "cider-like" beverage—kombucha tea. Often called the "Manchurian mushroom," it is not a mushroom at all. We sell these mother cultures for folks to brew their own fresh kombucha tea at home.

Do people sometimes misunderstand the business name?

Knoxville's a college town. Let's keep that in mind when it comes to some of the funny things we encounter frequently in regards to all things mushroomy. Sure, we've had our fair share of adventure seekers, both young and old coming through our doors. There just isn't anything we can do for those soul seekers. Most people are pretty understanding, and many customers will at least joke about the whole "magic mushroom" thing. It's also generally pretty easy to tell whenever Widespread Panic is in town, just by the increase in traffic at our showroom.

For more information: everythingmushrooms.com