By John Burton
Two River area tree farms help families make holiday memories
‘Tis the season to pile into the car and select a Douglas or Fraser fir – and maybe even cut it down yourself.
An important holiday tradition for some Two River families is getting their Christmas tree at an area tree farm. There are two in the area, Woodfield Christmas Tree Plantation in Colts Neck and the Lincroft Christmas Tree Farm.
“Every day’s like Christmas” for Harold Kilbride, co-owner of Colts Neck’s Woodfield Christmas Tree Plantation in Colts Neck.
“You get to meet a lot of people,” he said. Kilbride often sees the same families coming to his farm year after year and watches as the kids grow up. “It really does become a tradition.”
Kilbride, who is 91, runs the tree farm with his younger brother, George, who is 89, and George’s wife Norma. The Kilbrides have been planting trees since 1975 on their 13 acres at 164 County Route 537, and selling them for about 30 years. The family grows Norway spruce, white and Scotch pine and Douglas fir, along with operating a small gift shop at the farm. The farm also sells already cut Fraser firs, raised outside of Bloomsbury, Pa. While that type of tree is popular, Kilbride’s farm doesn’t grow them because summers are too hot and they don’t grow well in the area’s sandy soil. “You don’t get a nice full tree,” he said.
Douglas firs are also very popular with customers. “People like the tree because it doesn’t drop its needles” so early, he said.
The farm grows about 7,000 trees, with the Kilbrides planting the 10- to 15-inch saplings annually. While Kilbride insists he’s still out there every year trimming the trees, he no longer cuts them down. “My back isn’t up to it,” he confessed.
On average it takes about 7 to 8 years for the evergreens to grow to an appropriate height – about 6 to 7 feet – for most homes, though the farm has trees as tall as 20 feet available. The farm sells about 300 to 400 trees annually, Kilbride said.
Kilbride started in the business to secure the farmland property tax assessment for his acreage, he said.
But, it has come to mean more than that over the years.
“It’s a lot of work,” caring for the trees, worrying if they’re getting enough water – or too much – and watching for insect infestation, all of which can wreak havoc with a crop, Kilbride said. The payoff is “you get to see these kids, running, looking at the trees. It makes you remember what it’s like to be a kid at Christmas time.”
Pat Kohl helps run the Lincroft Christmas Tree Farm now owned by her son, William. “People are happy when they come,” she said.
The 6-acre farm at 523 Newman Springs Road is where the Kohl family grows about 6,000 trees. They have been tree farmers for 40 years and selling them for 29.
They grow white pine, Douglas fir, concolor fir and blue spruce. The Fraser is probably the most popular choice for their operation because of “the soft needles and aroma,” she said.
Her favorite? “I can’t pick one,” Kohl said. “I love every single one.”
Like Woodfield in neighboring Colts Neck, customers can cut an evergreen themselves, tag one to be cut as Christmas nears or purchase one to be cut by farm employees.
Matt and Janine Sterner, a young married couple who moved into their Oakhurst home in August, picked a tree that Matt cut, a tradition he’s continuing from having grown up in Pennsylvania. Janine picked out the tree. “We were looking for the perfect shape and perfect height,” Matt said, lugging an approximately 6-foot tall Douglas fir to their car.
“It has good branches to hang the ornaments,” Janine said.
Kohl said the farm sells “the experience” of making a day out of tree hunting, walking the farm, having cocoa and being greeted by Santa, who was on hand on Saturday, Nov. 30. The joy is contagious, as Kohl family members, who grew up working on the farm, share the experience with new and returning customers.
“It really is a wonderful time,” Kohl said.
“It’s that really nice family experience that people seek out,” said Donna Cole, executive secretary of the New Jersey Christmas Tree Growers Association. At her farm, Cole’s Country Tree Farm, in Warren County, she has seen three generations come and pick out and buy trees. “It’s just a wonderful part of life,” Cole said.
It’s pretty good business, too. While Christmas tree farming tends to be more avocation than livelihood for most who own and operate the farms, Cole said members of the association say “business is better each year. Not gigantically better, but it is better.”
New Jersey has about 80,000 acres dedicated to the trees, with on average 1,000 trees per acre. The association has 160 members. This year, a New Jersey farm won the national tree contest, sponsored by the National Christmas Tree Association, for the first time. Trees from that farm, Wyckoff Christmas Tree Farm, in Warren County provided the Douglas firs that are being used by the White House this year, Cole said.
Woodfield Christmas Tree Plantation in Colts Neck is open from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays. Prices range from $45 for a 6-foot Norway spruce to $74 for a 9-foot Fraser fir.
The Lincroft Christmas Tree Farm is open from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Mondays through Fridays and from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. weekends. Prices range from $54-$79, according to species, with the blue spruce being the most expensive as it takes the longest to mature, Kohl said.