Winter Worm News

Expanded Service Area 2018

We would like to announce some big news for our Compost Exchange Program! We have expanded our service area for the program to a few North Side neighborhoods; West Allegheny, East Allegheny, Central Allegheny, Troy Hill, Spring Hill, Spring Garden.


Increased Returns For Customers!

We have doubled the returns for our customers in the exchange program so now each customer will be getting back 30lbs of worm castings every quarter! We also have other product options for your returns other than the worm castings (which are an incredible organic fertilizer). You can mix and match a combination of indoor potting soil, seed starting mix, or leaf compost to fit your needs.

All of our customers get a quarterly newsletter that goes into more detail about these options, as well as other information about what we do. If you aren’t yet a customer but would like to receive the newsletter we would be happy to add you to the list, just send an email to


This 3.5 gallon bucket holds 10lbs of worm castings, get 3 times this amount every quarter!

Attention All Non-Profits That Love to Garden!

Are you planning on using compost this spring? You can get free compost from our customers that are a part of our Compost Exchange Program. Let us know before you start your seed swaps, gardening workshops, and other springtime activities so we can arrange for compost drop offs. The best way to get in touch is to send an email to


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Thank you for checking out my business! 2017 season has begun, and I thought I’d take a moment to talk about how this all started.

In 2012, before Shadyside Worms, I found myself able to practice my gardening and composting hobbies again, after years of renting in different apartments that had little to no balcony space to work with, I was finally moving into a house with a backyard. It provided me with the opportunity to dig in to the earth again, echoing my grandfather’s aged hands that showed me what a trusty pocket knife and rugged fingernails can accomplish.

When I moved into that house, my roommate and I plowed the sod and weeds to build a garden. I put a simple compost pit together for a household of three. Four walls of plywood- about 2′ x 3′ each, and a couple pieces of scrap wood to lay on top of the mix inside. The compost pit was set back under a mulberry tree canopy that rarely let light into one corner of the yard. A handful of composting worms added to the mix set everything into motion, and I finally got the most beautifully rich worm castings I had ever produced. The following spring, Shadyside Nursery gave me the space and opportunity to start my own vermiculture business.

Vermiculture techniques can vary a lot depending on the set up. I first learned about “composting worms” from my friend Adam Fisher when I was living in Baltimore. In the back alley of his duplex home in the city, and he opened up a $5.00 rubbermaid trash can lid to show me some food scraps that he was feeding to composting worms. We were well into July, and the food had began to putrefy, but he grabbed a half of a watermelon he had recently added to show me a few stragglers, “I think most of them are escaping out of the bottom”, he said, “I had to drill a few holes in the can to let the liquid out”. He turned to show me a trail of leachate dribbling down his driveway leaving an odd trail of acidic sediment.

My first experience learning about vermiculture was in truth, not incredibly unique. These moments happen all the time with gardeners, horticulturalists, permaculture students, entomologists, sustainability designers, etc. We all collectively show-and-tell, share tactics and solutions, or at least sympathize about the frustration often involved. One of the driving factors in this constant exchange of information is the fact that we share our past mistakes to help others learn, and at the same time strive to take on a new projects. The root of wisdom and understanding in any of these fields comes from the direct observation of nature and the curious but resilient decision making skills it shows throughout each season or life cycle.

This is Shadyside Worms’ 5th season. Until recently I was thinking it was the 4th actually, but I’m just happy to be moving forward. I have found persistence through the support and passion of urban agriculturists in Pittsburgh that help businesses like this one survive. I appreciate being able to witness this culture first hand, to listen to, and hopefully share at least the wisdom of other people’s stories and experiences.

And one last word about “gardening”. I have nothing against the word, but let’s face it, even in Pittsburgh, one of the greenest cities I’ve witnessed, we are urban agriculturists. I would hope that the work you put into gardening soon turns into a sustainable lifestyle, and a mind for the importance of our natural environment. If I’ve had one mission with this business over the years, it’s to prove that we all have green thumbs, and we all have the ability to create product from the work we put into our efforts. Composting is only one aspect of the many projects ahead of us as we create a healthy, thriving, living city.

Enjoy it!

Travis Leivo

Owner & Chief Worm Officer (CWO)


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Community Composting

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Join us for a workshop that will teach you how to compost large amounts of waste in a community setting. Start a composting group in your neighborhood, build a compost heap at your community garden, or empower your organization to compost after events. This hands-on workshop will give you the tips and tricks to compost on a larger scale.

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Garlic Needs Great Compost

Garlic is often overlooked by gardeners in Pennsylvania, but it is incredibly easy to grow and there are dozens of varieties to try.

Garlic is most often planted in the fall in the Zone 5/6 temperate zones, but it is easy to plant, and often times it is worth planting in the spring if you forgot to plant last year.

Now that March is just around the corner, it is important to find yourself some quality garlic- preferably “seed” garlic if you can find it. Local farmers like Enon Valley Garlic Company are typically sold out of their seed garlic varieties this time of year, but grocery stores like East End food cooperative and Giant Eagle Market District often sell quality garlic that will make do as seed garlic. Sometimes you can find special varieties like elephant garlic, but you can also look for any kind of organic garlic, and check to see if some of what they are selling is starting to sprout:

sprouting fresh garlic

sprouting fresh garlic

The earliest time to plant garlic in the spring is in March, when you can start to work the soil. It helps to have 3+ days above 40 degrees. Make sure you have some quality compost to put in your garden bed before planting, or get some worm castings to mix in to your soil. When we get a good 2-3 days of guaranteed warm weather, and you can work the soil to add your compost, go ahead and get ready to plant. Planting in March will give you whole cloves of your own homegrown garlic by July/August.

Planting your garlic is easy, but I will leave it to Enon Valley garlic Company to give you concise directions. Get out there and play in the dirt!


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Gearing up for Winter

After surviving the past two winters of bitter cold, it’s important to be prepared this time of year when it comes to backyard composting! First thing you need to do is find a source of fresh wood chips. Find a neighbor doing some tree trimming, or a small tree company in your area one day, and see if they will help you out. Make sure the wood chips are from a deciduous tree- the resin in coniferous trees prevents rapid decomposition and the compost will not reach higher composting temperatures desired to last through a cold winter.

Pile up at least one yard of wood chips (3′ x 3′ x 3′) and get them soaking wet. Depending on the percentage of bark, which adds nitrogen, the pile will heat up to a range of temperatures. Regardless, even wood chips with lots of bark and leaves can still have a high carbon/nitrogen ratio of 300:1. This leaves plenty of room to add vegetable waste throughout the winter before reaching the 30:1 ratio of carbon(browns) to nitrogen(greens) desired.

Wood Chips in Gardening and Composting- check it out!

If you’re confused about what you can add while still keeping an active compost heap, check out this great website below that provides a source calculator. Remember to keep the carbon content high while slowly increasing nitrogen over the winter, and keep your compost heap covered with straw or leaves to maintain a hot, humid environment.

A great fall scavenger hunt!

A great fall scavenger hunt!

We used the colorful leaves, flowers, and grasses we found to decorate our house plants.

We used the colorful leaves, flowers, and grasses we found to decorate our house plants.

My favorite colors are the red maple leaves with the dark purple hibiscus flower.

My favorite colors are the red maple leaves with the dark purple hibiscus flower.




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We are opening the doors at Shadyside Nursery Saturday April 25th!
Come down and get some worm castings for your garden or talk to us about
composting and vermiculture! We have lots of workshops, events, and even a CSA planned this year!

get dirty


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Workshops and Programming

Special guest shadyside worms

This is a lovely article about our trip to Allentown to teach some kids in an afterschool program about composting and worms, check it out!

The Brashear Kids

If you are looking to set up workshops for your organization or business this spring or summer, send us an e-mail and we can get started planning!

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Turn your food scraps into fertilizer!

If you’re one of the many people that would like to compost, but don’t have a yard or the proper space, you finally have a way to do it! Our residential composting program, the Curbside Compost Exchange, is designed just like your recycle pickup, except we take your food scraps and return fertilizer that you can use to enrich your soil, or donate to a local community garden or urban farm program.

A big THANK YOU to my good friend Brent Riley, owner of Access Media Labs out of Frederick, MD for helping us out with some super awesome stickers for our compost buckets! I’m too excited not to post some pictures. I LOVE ‘EM! 😀

Our 2 gallon, or 3.5 gallon compost buckets

Our 2 gallon, or 3.5 gallon compost buckets

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Environment and Energy Community Outreach center

EECO center

This past week we have been fortunate enough to teach some composting workshops to a few summer camp groups at the EECO center(Environment and Energy Community Outreach) in Larimer.
It has been so much fun! The kids are learning all about nutrient cycles, composting, and of course WORMS! We even take a trip to Larimer’s community garden to get some hands on work done.
If you would like to have Shadyside Worms teach some workshops on composting or soil science, shoot us an e-mail so we can set up a meeting with you and make great things happen for your community.

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We are all growing!

Please take some time to check out all of the the cool things we have to offer here, from worm bins to our composting program- but more importantly, take some time to go out in nature and enjoy the beautiful ecosystems all around western Pennsylvania! Appalachia is a truly unique place to live in and explore, and this time of year there is nothing more beautiful than the natural composting that feeds our wilderness.






Sometimes we wish we could spend more time out in the wilderness, but this is also a busy time of year for composters with all the urban gardening/farming projects going on. Our apologies if it is hard to reach us, PLEASE keep trying, we value our customers, and hope that as we chug along through our second year, we will be able to make more time for everyone!



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