Growing Covo – A Zimbabwean heirloom kale

by Lala

While visiting my family in the North West province, I was introduced to a delicious vegetable known as Covo (Brassica oleracea var acephala). Covo was introduced to the area by the Zimbabwean families who moved to the area in recent years. Many of the homes in the village have a patch of Covo growing, along with loaded peach trees, mangoes and the custard apples (Casimroa edulis) which were also introduced from Zimbabwe. I’m growing one myself and will blog about it later.

There were two varieties of Covo that I saw. One type of Covo is a blue-green colour, with smooth leaves and looks a lot like the famous American collard greens. The other is a  deep green, with bumpy leaves that have frilly edges. Both varieties grow tall, some plants I saw looked close to a metre and a half. The image below is of the smooth leafed variety:

This leafy vegetable has a nutty taste and takes a lot longer than common kales to cook. It is very important to remove the stems and ribs. They do not cook well or soften as they have tough fibres.

I liked to fry covo with onions and chives, then bring it to the boil for at least 45 minutes. I served it like that for lunch, or mixed in with omelettes for breakfast. Despite that long cooking time it retains a deep green colour and a crunchy texture. I cooked this almost every single day because it was so delicious. I was told that in Zimbabwe, this is commonly eaten daily as well with local staples. Here is a Zimbabwean beef stew recipe using Covo:

My mother took me to a little homestead where a young woman from Zimbabwe has established a very decent growing operation. She transformed a piece of very neglected land into a productive space growing Covo which she and her husband sell to the community. She is also growing various kinds of sweet potatoes for eating at home. She also has maize and pumpkins, grown together in the traditional style…something we have been doing in Africa long before we knew of the permaculture concepts:

How to Grow Covo:

Covo is commonly grown not from seeds, but from small side shoots. I was given lots of these to grow in my own garden at home. I have three different areas going with it. I was very, very sceptical about growing a brassica by simply sticking shoots in the ground. It has been two weeks or so and they seem to be taking hold. No rooting hormone or anything like that was used or required. I just added a bit of organic Bounce Back pellets to the planting holes for good measure.

The advice I was given was to keep the soild moist for at least 5 days after planting, thereafter to water every two or three days. Once established the plants are very drought resistant and can survive for weeks in the African heat with very little water. This is a truly valuable African heirloom vegetable, adapted to local conditions.

Here is a fact sheet (for the UK) on growing Covo. The second picture shows the crinkly type of covo.

I’ll keep you posted on my covo plantations. Have you grown or eaten this special African heirloom before? Let us chat in the comments.

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Neph April 26, 2020 - 10:17 am

Nice article. Have learnt a lot and will surely find this article hand as I start my own vegetable garden.

Lala April 30, 2020 - 2:17 pm

I’m glad you enjoyed it. Happy gardening.


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