EIGHTY-SIX year old John Bute has been tilling the soil at the Blair Road garden in upper northwest Washington for 15 years. He grows all his own vegetables to keep his food budget down to $1.25 a day, not counting the one or two times a week he eats out.

Bute shares his gardening chores with an "elderly" couple, (who are in their early nineties), Dr. Myron Anderson and his wife, Eura Mae. As the youngster of this trio, Bute tends to the daily garden needs of both his and their garden. They all help pick the crop when it's time for the harvest. "And afterwards, Eura Mae does a lot of our canning and deep-freezing." All three eat well on a little money.

"Ever hear about this new kind of corn? You can plant it in the cold weather. It grows a 7 1/2 inch ear and along about July 2 or 4 it'll be ready to be picked," he says with pride as if he, had just invented it.

Bute, who lives two short blocks from the Blair Road garden, is one of the few gardeners at this community garden who tends to his 30 x 50-foot plot every day. Even on this particular day he had managed to squeeze in an hour before the rains started, to plant his new breed of corn. One rainy day, he stayed home and took time out to talk to a reporter.

Bute retired as a Woodward & Lothrop's salesman 21 years ago. So he not only has the time to garden, but also to hand down gardening advice.

More than 200 people garden at Blair Road's community plots, usually on gardens 25 x 25 feet.

The Washington metropolitan area offers about 4,000 garden plots ranging in size from 10 x 20 to 30 x 50 feet. Some are free, others cost up to $15.

All age groups, from youngsters to retired folks like Bute, garden. Some of the garden sites provide their own water supplies, while at others the irrigation is up to you. At all plots gardeners are responsible for finding their own seeds, shovels, fertilizer and gardening advice, although a few sites, such as Arlington County, offer classes.

The National Park Service's youth program at Brightwood Garden provides assistance for their young plot tneders. Jeff Fattibeme, who oversees this program, says "For the first time we're coordinating our youth gardening program with the Big Brother/Big Sister organizations. Many of the kids aren't quite strong enough to handle the heavy work required in tending the plots." Most of the kids' plots are 10 x 20 feet.

The gardens are restricted to use by area residents. In some locations, such as the Glover-Archibald site above Georgetown and the Jones Point site in Alexandria, gardeners must live within one mile of their gardens because of the high demand for plots from the numerous apartment dwellers in these areas. Most plots are limited to one per family.

There is a plot shortage in the Washington area. The National Park Service's Jeff Fattibeme says there is only a 10 percent turnover each year at the sites operated by the Park Service. "A better rotation system should be instituted because it's getting more and more difficult to get a plot. Some people wait over a year to get in. We could use twice as many gardens." s

The community garden program, which was chartered by Congress in the early '70s, makes use of some of the area's original WWII Victory Gardens -- these include the Grover-Archibald and Blair Road plots. The victory gardens began, says Franziska Hecht of the National Park Service, as part of the WWII war effort when Americans were asked to grow their own vegetables.

Where to garden:

District of Columbia -- The National Park Service operates 10 garden sites in Rock Creek Park, Northwest Washington, Oxon Hill and Alexandria. The 1,000 plots, each about 20 x 20 square feet, are limited one per family and rental fees, if any, are nominal. At the beginning of each season, after the previous year's gardeners have decided whether or not to return, the National Park Service opens the remainder of the plots to the public on a first come, first serve basis. The Park Service provides a newsletter, which suggests the best variety of vegetables to plant.

For details, phone Jeff Fattibeme at 282-7020 or his assistants, Hillmar Sallee of the Rock Creek Park Division at 426-6834; Barbara Sheahan, coordinator of the National Capital Parks East at 472-9227; or Hank Snyder, coordinator of gardens for the George Washington Memorial Park division, at 557-3635. Sign up now for next year.

D.C. Recreation has three young people's gardens: 14th and Taylor St., NW, the National Arboretum; and 48th Street and Nannie Burroughs Avenue. This program is year-round and provides each child with 75 square feet. Approximately 350 children participate in the program in which they are taught "how to plant and tend just about anything you can grow in this region," says director Bill Hash. They don't grow perennial vegetables, such as asparagus and rhubarb, since the plots change ownership each year. Children must be age 8 or older. The D.C. Recreation program meets twice-a-week in the summer and once-a-week in the winter. Call director Hash at 576-6257 for youth program information.

The D.C. Extension Service oversees five garden sites. The 10 x 15 foot plots are assigned by the individual neighborhood organization and are cost free. The sites include: Hamilton Street between 7th and 8th Streets, NW; 13th Street and Belmont Avenue; Emory Heights at 9th Street and Missouri Avenue, NE; Fort Stevens, 13th and Quackenbos Streets; and one off New Jersey Avenue, NW. Garden advisor Al Smith at 282-7403 can provide further information. His office supplies fact sheets for the gardeners on the best type of soil, fertilizer, etc. The D.C. Extension Service plots are free.

Montgomery County -- Recreation Department has four gardens, each with 50 or more plots, plowed and staked, but no water. Charge is $10. At present there are waiting lists at some locations. Call Montgomery County Recreation for more details 468-4203.

Prince George's County -- The P.G. County Extension Service oversees four sites that are avilable only for county residents: Bowie, at Route 301; Brightseat in Landover; Forestville on D'Arcy in Forestville; and Rosecroft Park near Oxonhill Road. The cost is $10 per family for the 20 x 50 foot lots, plowed, disked and staked out. Water tanks are provided at each site. Plots available. Phone Linda Colevas at 952-4230 for information.

In addition the Maryland National Capital Park & Planning Commission has recently opened two new garden plots at 1101 Parker Ave. in Chillum, Md. and at 9301 Cherry Hill Road in College Park, Md. Twenty plots, size 25x30', are available at each site and cost $10 for one and $15 for two. Call 699-2415 for details.

Howard County -- The Columbia Association supervises three garden sites: West Side, Longbeach and Alcorn. Prices range from $7.50 for a half plot (12 x 20 feet) to $10 for a regular plot (20 x 25 feet) to $20 for a double plot (20 x 50 feet), less for senior citizens. Three tanks of water per site. Plenty of plots are available except at the Alcorn. Only Howard County residences are eligible. Call Rachel Coleman, for West Side, at 730-0003; or Ron Minekime for all three at 730-5216.

Fairfax -- About 1,000 commnity garden plots are in Fairfax County's 11 garden locations. Twenty plots are left to be rented. Cost: $15 per plot. One per family. Plots are plowed under during the winter. Phone Kim Ellis at 941-5000 for details.

Arlington -- Gardening technician Bob Parker of the Arlington County Extension Office says there are no plots available right now. In January he will be taking names for plots at 558-2475. Arlington County has about 270 plots at 13 sites. Plots are 20 x 30 feet, $15 with water, $10 without. The program offers courses in mastering gardening. As in other locations, the plots go to last year's gardeners first, then are rented out on a first come, first serve basis. Limited to Arlington County residents.

Alexandria -- One hundred plots are in two gardening sites in Alexandria County at Holmes Run and Chinquapin. The plots at Holmes Run cost $10, without water, those at Chinquapin are $15 with water. Center Director Marge Cooley says no more plots are available this year, but next season call 750-6355. Plots are limited to one per family. Garden workshops are held once a month. Next year, Cooley says, the County plans to build four raised plots for the handicapped.