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Here’s how to plant the popular Maltese Christmas gulbiena
It’s a tradition that has been passed down many generations.

Jillian Mallia

We know it’s still early, but as we say in Maltese, trid tahsiblu! Growing vetches, more popularly known locally as gulbiena, is a Christmas tradition that has been done for many years on these islands. Their best time to planted is between 25th November and 8th December to be ready in time for the festive season.

The history of gulbiena

Surrounding our cribs with noodle-like and rubbery shrubs is a Christmas tradition unique to our islands. Growing this plant is a pretty weird process, considering the requirements, including cotton wool and pitch-black darkness.

The tradition has been around for centuries and rumour has it, gulbiena was grown by local farmers when other Christmas decorations were scarce. While the origins of the tradition aren’t so clear cut, there is a probable link to a Greek tradition referring to The Garden of Adonis. Here seeds were planted, and roots shot up temporarily, just like the gulbiena which only remains alive for the festive season.

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Growing gulbiena

If you’re interested in growing your own gulbiena this year, here’s how to do it, thanks to tips from Dilettanti tal-Agrikoltura sigar u pjanti.

Phase One: Soaking them overnight

“Place the vetches in a large bowl and soak in warm water for at least 24 hours. The vetches will absorb a lot of water, so make sure they have enough. You will see that overnight they will swell in size.”

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Phase Two: Planting them

Take a small/medium container […] and pack it up with cotton wool, soil, saw dust, or tissue paper. Put the vetches on top and water them.” Then all you have to do is place them in a dark place, like under a bed, in a cupboard or in a dark room.

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Phase Three: Maintenance

“Water the vetches every few days, making sure the cotton wool or other medium never goes dry. Do not expose to light until they are fully grown.” The page notes that they take around three to four weeks to grown to their full size, but after two weeks in the dark, they should already be of a considerable size. “When exposed to light, the vetches start turning from white to green; so they should only be taken out of the darkness when they need to be used.” So ideally, they’re out a few days before Christmas to have a nice setting.

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Will you be planting gulbiena this year?

5th December 2020


Jillian Mallia
Written by
Jillian Mallia
A book lover, writer and globetrotter who loves exploring new places and the local gems that the Maltese Islands have to offer. An avid foodie and arts fanatic, Jillian searches the island and beyond for the perfect settings to write about.

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