The cool damp weather in much of the Southeast during March got some crops off to a slow start.

That was particularly the case with sweet potatoes.

Many growers choose to grow their own sprouts. That takes 30 days or so. Once transplanted, the crop needs 90 or 100 frost-free days in the field, so growers want to find a window of good weather in March to get the sprout-producing job done.

Joel Boseman of Battleboro, N.C., said he was able to find such a window. He “bedded” his sweet potato seed stock on March 14, a little earlier than normal for him, and he was very glad he was able to do it on that date.

“There was some cool damp weather right after that," said Boseman near the end of March.

“Only about 50 percent of the sweet potatoes in this area have been bedded, and now the growers are getting nervous about getting the rest in.”

The bedding process includes putting whole potatoes right on top of the ground and pushing them into the dirt, Boseman explained.

“Then we put a little dirt on top, spray a herbicide on the row and wrap them in plastic,” he said.

But this is not the only way to produce sprouts. You can also use plastic greenhouses, and they are recommended if you need sprouts early.

Sprouts can be produced in three to five weeks in greenhouses if heat is provided and pre-sprouted seed stock is used.

But the most practical method for the majority of North Carolina growers is the field bed covered with clear plastic.

Barring further weather delays, sprouts were expected to be available in eastern North Carolina in May.

Planting will begin as soon as possible and last until June 25. Harvest will begin 90 to 100 days after transplanting.

Planted area in North Carolina is expected to be down a bit as growers were a little reluctant late in the winter to solidify their plans this season.

There were two reasons, said Sue Johnson-Langdon, executive director of the North Carolina Sweet Potato Commission.

“No farm bill has been passed, meaning farmers don’t know what the playing field is going to be like,” she said.