Finding the tree most fair and lovely

Local families frolic amid Bullock Farms


Staff Writer

CHRIS KELLY staff Jake Chek, of Jackson, carries his freshly cut tree home for the holidays at Bullock Farms in the Cream Ridge section of Upper Freehold on Dec. 9. CHRIS KELLY staff Jake Chek, of Jackson, carries his freshly cut tree home for the holidays at Bullock Farms in the Cream Ridge section of Upper Freehold on Dec. 9. For many, creating the warm and glowing center of winter traditions begins with a cold excursion out into local farm fields.

Each year, 30 million American families bring a natural Christmas tree into their homes and make it a focal point of their holidays, according to the New Jersey Christmas Tree Growers’ Association (NJCTGA), an organization formed in 1950 to promote the growing of Christmas trees in the state.

A decorated tree engages the senses and often evokes feelings of nostalgia. As many individuals, couples, friends and families roaming around Bullock Farms on Dec. 10 would attest to, having a tree for the holidays is as much a tradition as venturing out to a local farm to find that perfect tannenbaum.

The 100-acre Cream Ridge farm has about 12 acres planted with approximately 12,000 Christmas trees for its patrons to choose from this year. On Sunday, the farm was bustling with people from miles around who were enjoying the country scenery that helps some conjure up memories of holiday seasons past.

PHOTOSBY CHRIS KELLY staff Above, Shaun Burke, 4, of Colts Neck, helps his father, Michael, chop down a small tree at Bullock Farms in the Cream Ridge section of Upper Freehold on Dec. 9. At left, Sean Bullock transports a freshly cut Christmas tree for a customer on his family’s farm. PHOTOSBY CHRIS KELLY staff Above, Shaun Burke, 4, of Colts Neck, helps his father, Michael, chop down a small tree at Bullock Farms in the Cream Ridge section of Upper Freehold on Dec. 9. At left, Sean Bullock transports a freshly cut Christmas tree for a customer on his family’s farm. The Sulewski family, of Union, drove almost an hour to Bullock Farms to find the right tree. Patty Sulewski and her husband, Michael, followed closely behind their spry 9-year-old daughter, Kristin, who was excited about the rows and rows of trees.

“I like to run around and to look at all of the trees,” Kristin said.

Although it was the family’s first time on Bullock Farms, Michael said they’ve gone to a tree farm in search of a real tree for the past 20 years.

“It’s fun,” Patty said. “We always make a day of it.”

The couple started traveling to tree farms to cut their own tree after having a bad experience during their first Christmas together with a tree that came from a lot.

After Michael became severely allergic to the tree they had bought from the lot, they looked at it more closely and discovered that the whole central stem was covered with mold.

When asked what kind of tree they thought they would pick out this year, Michael said, “A Douglas fir. It’s what I grew up with ever since I was a little kid.”

Patty said her parents always had artificial trees for the holidays.

“But that only makes me appreciate real trees even more,” she said. “I love the way they smell.”

Just as the Sulewskis had a hard time keeping up with their daughter, Hamilton Township’s Joe Leammari was discovered amid some pines, where he was having difficulty following his girlfriend, Donna Hummel, on her quest for the perfect tree.

When asked what kind of tree he was looking for, Leammari replied, “Probably the first one we saw over there,” as he pointed way across the field of trees toward the entrance.

Hummel said she likes the medium-needled trees such as the blue spruce, whose needles also have an ethereal aqua tint.

The tree the couple would ultimately select would be their first real Christmas tree. When asked what got them out onto the farm to find a real tree this year, Leammari joked, “She likes to spend money.”

Hummel said, “I used to do this as a kid so I wanted to do this again. Cutting your own tree down makes it feel like Christmas.

“He’s [Leammari] a lucky man today,” she added, chuckling. “Before picking the one I like, I’ll look at every one first.”

Leammari joked that they would probably be in the field until Christmas.

Although some Bullock Farms patrons choose to cut down their own tree, the farm offers assistance in both cutting and preparing the trees to take home. The farm also offers a selection of fresh, precut trees that are regularly brought in from Pennsylvania.

Although the precut trees range in price, all the trees in the field this year cost $45, which includes sales tax.

In the field, Bullock Farms has Douglas firs, Norway spruces, blue spruces and white pines.

The Bullock family said the Douglas fir tree is the farm’s most popular.

“The Douglas fir lasts the longest, and it’s the greenest in color,” Marty Bullock said. “Plus, it’s not prickly like the blue spruce.”

The Douglas fir has been the major Christmas tree species used in the Pacific Northwest since the 1920s. Nationally, it remains one of the most popular Christmas trees, according to the NJCTGA. The needles are dark or blue green and soft to the touch, and they radiate out in all directions from the branch.

Although the Douglas fir is the most popular, the blue spruce is becoming more popular as a Christmas tree as a result of its symmetrical form and attractive blue foliage. The species has an excellent natural shape and requires little shearing. Additionally, needle retention is among the best for the spruces, according to the NJCTGA.

Marty’s wife, Janet, described the Norway spruce as “more open and of the stiffer trees, whereas the Douglas fir is softer.”

The Norway spruce is readily identified by its dark green needles and drooping branches. As Christmas trees, Norway spruces have an overall color that is fair to excellent, but needle retention is considered poor unless the trees are cut fresh and kept properly watered, according to the NJCTGA.

When asked what kind of tree will deck her living room this year, Janet said she usually takes what happens to be left over in the lot but is hoping for a concolor.

White fir, also commonly called concolor fir, has good foliage color, a pleasing natural shape and aroma, and good needle retention, all of which make it a good choice for a Christmas tree, according to the NJCTGA.

The Bullocks began planting Christmas trees on their farm in 1989. The tree farm didn’t open, however, until the 1999 Christmas season, since it takes the stock between eight and 10 years to grow to maturity, Marty said.

Brothers Marty and Rick Bullock operate the farm along with their wives, Janet and Linda. Being a completely family-run farm, the four live and work side by side throughout the year. Having a tree farm is a year-round endeavor and “a lot more work than people realize,” according to Janet.

In early spring, they plant seedlings. During the summer months, the lanes between the rows of trees have to be mowed constantly. The trees also have to be pruned and sprayed throughout the year to keep away insects and prevent diseases. For the holiday season, the family is lucky enough to have members who volunteer their time to sell the trees.

Not only does the Bullock family recognize the trees as a means of income, but members also note that real trees are important for the environment and society as a whole. Real trees, according to Janet, are not products of fossil fuels, which deplete precious irreplaceable resources.

“Artificial trees are petroleum-based,” Janet said. “Real trees are a renewable resource. Even though the trees are cut down, we replant them all of the time.”

Janet said tree farms consume carbon dioxide and increase oxygen levels in the environment. One acre of Christmas trees produces the daily oxygen requirement for 18 people, according to the NJCTGA.

While growing to maturity, the trees also provide other environmental benefits, such as serving as a wildlife habitat, increasing soil stability and providing a pleasing aesthetic improvement to the land.

In the ever-changing farming industry of Central Jersey, Marty said that selling Christmas trees has also helped his family keep its land open and away from developers.

Located in the gently rolling hills and green pastures in central New Jersey, the 100-acre Bullock Farms has been in the Bullock family since 1860.

“Our children are the sixth generation of Bullocks to be here,” Linda said.

The generations have seen many changes. In the early days, alfalfa, corn and potatoes were the main crops, with potatoes and grain growing on the farm through the 1950s. Tomatoes were grown in the 1960s, and then the farm grew all grain from the early ’70s through the ’90s. Although today the farm grows crops of corn, soybeans, wheat, barley and rye, Janet said the family has lost a lot of the farmers who once rented land from them, which is one of the main reasons why they planted Christmas trees in the first place.

“We saw the trend,” she said.

Now, during the winter months, their farm sells trees as well as wreaths and grave blankets.

While their husbands work the fields, Janet and Linda run a gift shop on the property.

Located in a barn formerly used for cranberry processing in the late 1800s, the Cranberry House gift shop has a variety of Christmas-themed crafts and gifts. Specialties include unique items such as hand-painted slate wall hangings and farm-grown gourds painted in various seasonal designs, including Santa Claus.

If the purchase of a Christmas tree doesn’t entice patrons into the Cranberry House, the lure of hot chocolate and a warm potbellied stove on a cold winter day of searching for that perfect tannenbaum surely promises to.

Bullock Farms is open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Wednesday through Sunday until Dec. 23.

For more information or directions, call (609) 758-8726 or visit