How to Grow Vetches (Gulbiena): Traditional Maltese Christmas Decorations
Vetches (Gulbiena or Gurbiena) are grown in Malta to be used as a Christmas decoration. Malta is a tiny island country in the middle of the Mediterranean Sea that is culturally very religious. For the Maltese people, one of the most important Christmas decorations is the crib, which represents the grotto in which baby Jesus was born. According to ancient Maltese tradition, light-deprived vetch seeds are grown over a period of a few weeks and placed next to the statue of the baby Jesus in the manger. This is done to decorate the crib. Over the years, gulbiena was used as a more generic Christmas decoration and is used to decorate houses and churches over the Christmas period. In Malta, vetch seeds are usually planted on the 7th December in order to be at their best for Christmas.
Light deprived vetches grow white and stringy and can also be used for crafts. An example would be growing it as hair or a beard for a toy figure.
Here is an easy guide explaining the few steps involved in growing vetches.
- vetches (vetch seeds are easily available on Amazon.com or in a garden/gardening shop)
- a bowl
- cotton wool or sawdust or tissue paper
- a small/medium container
- a dark place.
- Soaking Them Overnight: Place the vetches in a large bowl and soak 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.
- Planting Them: Take a small/medium container (you may want to use a disposable one so you can just throw it away when the Christmas season is over) and pack it up with the cotton wool, saw dust, or tissue paper. Put the vetches on top. Water the vetches. Place in a dark place. Under a bed or in a cupboard would work out fine.
- Maintenance: Water the vetches every few days making sure the cotton wool never goes dry. Do not expose to light until they are fully grown. They usually take around 3-4 weeks to be fully grown, but within 2 weeks they would still be of reasonable length. 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.
Would you be interested in growing gulbiena?
If you are interested in Malta and Maltese traditions, you may want to try making Kwarezimal or Bigilla which are both traditional Maltese recipes.