The Bapst family members all work together during berry harvest. From left to right are, Clint, (holding his daughter Milly), Clint’s wife, Makaela, Amy and Brad (holding his granddaughter Adaline), Emileigh and her husband Clay (holding their son Archer).

Growing strawberries for two decades at Bapst Berry Patch

By Brianna Gwirtz, OCJ field reporter

When you have vacation time, you could use it for trips. You could see a friend, hike in the mountains or swim in the ocean. But for Brad Bapst, vacation time is used for only one thing: strawberry season. 

Bapst Berry Patch is located in Beaver, a small village in Pike County. Every May, people from as far away as Kentucky, West Virginia, and beyond visit the farm to secure fresh strawberries. 

Brad Bapst has worked for The Ohio State University for nearly 30 years. When he first began his career, Bapst worked in agricultural research at the South Centers, where he was introduced to research trials focused on berries and small fruits. Today, his job as a business specialist with the Small Business Development Center has him out of the research world. Still, the information he learned about raising strawberries years ago stuck with him. 

“About 22 years ago, we saw an opportunity to grow strawberries on our farm. There weren’t many places to buy them locally then. I had just done some research trials and demonstrations using plasticulture techniques to grow strawberries. We decided to plant about 500 plants, just for our family,” Bapst said. 

Several neighbors and friends were interested in buying strawberries from the Bapst family. 

“After that first year, an older gentleman in our area was deciding to get out of the strawberry business. We knew our neighbors and friends were interested and saw it as an opportunity to jump into a business,” Bapst said. “So, after that first year, we decided to take the initiative to plant 12,000 strawberry plants, which was a little less than an acre.”

The business has steadily grown over the years, both in size and in popularity. Bapst planted 46,000 strawberry plants this past growing season, around three and a half acres. 

At the beginning of the business, Bapst did all the daily chores for the patch. His wife, Amy, brother, Caleb, and father, Paul, also helped him.

“I primarily take care of all the daily activities. When we are putting frost covers on the plants or when we are planting the strawberries, then I usually recruit a group to help. When we first started, my wife and I did a lot of picking. We would also hire local kids to help us,” Bapst said. “As our business became more serious, we began working with the Amish in our area. We needed a reliable labor source. It wasn’t a pretty sight when my wife came home from teaching all day, just exhausted, and we still had to pick 150 quarts of berries.”

Today, Bapst is joined by his two sons, Clay and Clint, and his daughters-in-law, Emileigh and Makaela, in the berry patch operation, especially during the busy season, which lasts 3 to 5 weeks in May and June. The growing season starts again after the ripe strawberries are picked and sold to around 2,000 customers. 

Every year in early August, Bapst purchases runner tips, which are small plants that grow off an established strawberry plant. The runner tips are then propagated into trays, where they grow into plugs or starter plants. By mid-September, the plugs are ready to be transplanted into the strawberry patch field.  

Runner tips are propagated into trays, where they grow into these plugs.

Bapst decided to purchase runner tips annually due to Ohio’s unpredictable weather. Starting with a healthy plant is key. 

“Many people ask why we don’t collect runner tips off our plants, especially since my biggest expense is purchasing plants. With Ohio weather, you never know if you just snipped off a plant infected with a disease or a fungus, and then I put my whole crop at risk. We purchase our runner tips from Nova Scotia, which is way north on the Canadian coast. They grow runner tips in nurseries because of the cooler and dryer climate. The tips come Certified Disease Free since the disease pressure is far less in their climate,” Bapst said. 

Bapst grows his strawberries using plastic mulch and irrigation lines instead of the typical matted row system most people think of. The system allows for better weed control, and Bapst can apply fertilizers through the irrigation system. 

“So, we plant strawberries in the middle of September, and they establish over the fall. They will go dormant over the winter, and then they start to grow in March. Strawberries will flower in early April, so we must be vigilant about frost and freeze warnings. We have to cover every row whenever a frost is possible. Then, about 28 days after they start to flower, usually in May and early June, we get our full crop. When the harvest is over, we take up the plastic, irrigation, and the old plants,” Bapst said. 

Over the summer, they will rework the soil and plant a cover crop, usually a rye blend with clover and vetch.  

 “Cover crops improve the soil health and help the strawberries grow better. We have done side-by-side comparisons in soil that’s been bare and soil where we used a cover crop, and it does make a big difference,” Bapst said. 

Bapst grows his strawberries using plastic mulch and irrigation lines for better weed control and applying fertilizers through the irrigation system. 

While the plants are growing strawberries, Bapst utilizes a fertilizer program fed through the irrigation lines. 

“We do drip fertilizer irrigation throughout the growing season, and we use calcium nitrate because they need additional nitrogen. Calcium nitrate improves the fruit’s cell structure, making it more shelf-stable and preserving its texture after it has been picked. We also utilize a fungicide disease management program because our environment here in Ohio, where it’s warm, wet, and humid, is the perfect environment for molds and fungus. We want to keep the plants healthy,” Bapst said. 

Bapst Berry Patch sells strawberries by the quart in a drive-thru pick-up system. When the family first started selling berries, they would sell them off their porch. However, COVID came along, and they had to shift their style to accommodate the concerns. They modified an old equipment shed and widened the driveway. People now pull up and place their orders, and the berries are placed in their vehicles. 

Most of their marketing is done via Facebook and word of mouth, and they have many repeat customers. The season is very short, usually only 3 weeks, and during those 3 weeks, it’s all hands on deck. 

Delicious strawberries are a popular local treat for Bapst Berry Patch customers.

“Whenever I make a Facebook post about berries, I prepare myself for my phone to be busy. I usually answer messages from 6 a.m. until 10 p.m.,” Bapst said. 

The draw of locally grown strawberries is very popular with his customer base, and for a good reason. 

“If you go to the store and buy strawberries, many people will buy them partially white, thinking they will ripen up. However, once a strawberry is picked, the sugar conversions have stopped. They won’t continue to ripen. Many berries grown in other states and shipped in are grown for shelf stability, not necessarily for flavor. So, if you buy berries from us, they won’t be as pretty in a few days, but they are fully ripe and sweet,” Bapst explained. 

Bapst is proud of the work he and his family do at Bapst Berry Patch.

“Our customers are eager to come see us again every year,” he said. “We worked a long time to establish our relationships with our customers, but today our relationship with the customer makes it all happen for us. It’s why we can continue to do what we do.”

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