When his father retired in the mid-90s, Veech tried to keep the business going, but the bottom dropped out of the hog market. The Veechs hung on for about two years, but finally decided to get rid of the hogs and try something else on the property where Keith had grown up.
He had been working for AT&T and also helping out at a local nursery on the side. With the knowledge he'd picked up there, plus a small grant from the Agricultural Development Fund Phase I tobacco money, he and Shawn were able to make the switch to the green industry, albeit part time at first.
"It was a long, hard road," he said. "People will say it takes five years to get a business established. Well, that's a short period, I think."
The Veechs found help along that road, though, from Nelson County horticulture extension agent Robbie Smith, as well as a team of horticulture extension specialists from the College of Agriculture, Food, and Environment. Smith came to Cooperative Extension from the nursery business, so he had plenty of experience to back to his advice, aside from the access he provided to the college's specialists.
Robbie Smith and Keith Veech discuss Veech's new
propagation house, buildt on the bones of the
old hog nursery barn.
Robert McNiel, now emeritus horticulture extension professor, visited the property back around 2001, when Veech was thinking about putting a greenhouse on the site of the gestation barn. The three men decided the site was probably best used for outdoor nursery space. The low walls serve to keep the plants from blowing over, and it has air flow through it, which Smith said is the nature of hog barns.
Water management is a big issue in the greenhouse business. Both drainage and fertility issues have to be taken into consideration. The old gestation barn's bones work well for that, Smith said.
"The houses were set up, because in the hog business, the manure and everything naturally flows to the center to the drain. That's the way it still is now that it's nursery space, so you're not standing in water, and it flows right to the middle, then back out to recycle it in the pond."
"Anything that comes up that he doesn't know the answer to,
he knows he can give us a holler," said UK horticulture
extension agent Robbie Smith, shown here with Keith Veech.
McNiel had some further advice, telling Veech to fill up the floor trough with water to keep the humidity up in the greenhouse over the winter. This would also serve as a heat sink, Smith explained, with the water capturing the day's heat and releasing it during the night.
It's been 17 years since Veech started converting his hog barns into a plant nursery. V&V is strictly wholesale, concentrating mostly on woody shrubs, such as boxwood, arbor vitae, and burning bush, though Shawn Veech said she "piddles" with flowering herbaceous plants.
Robbie Smith, Keith Veech, and
Shawn Veech examine the roses.
But the new venture will take three years, and Veech said it is a gamble.
"You tell me what's hot and what's not," he said. "In three years from now, they might be going to something different."
But with the backing of Smith and the UK nursery crops extension team, it's a gamble the Veeches feel safe in taking.