Don Humphrey has had his fill of tomatoes, zucchini and squash, and so have his neighbors.

"When they see me coming up the walk, they run," he said in jest.

But it won't be long before the foliage turns rainbow colors, the humidity subsides and the neighbors can delight in salads consisting of such fall delicacies as Couve Tronchuda, Cardoon, Shogoin, topped off, of course, with a few wedges of Carorich.

That is, Portuguese cabbage, southern European artichoke, Chinese radish and one yellowish, and "very attractive," tomato.

"I would say that the fall is my favorite gardening season," said Humphrey, who grows his produce on a friend's five-acre farm in Fairfax County.

In the meantime the garden aficionado and many other Virginia gardeners are finding that they should have planted four, not eight tomato plants, that they really should weed their gardens more than once a month, and that maybe, just maybe, they should have rented that summer beach house after all.

"No, I really like it," declared Col. William John, a native Nebraskan who found his roots in a community garden plot on Walter Reed Drive that he shares with 62 other Arlingtonians.

"You'd be surprised what you can grow in a 20-by-30-foot plot," he said, shaving the skin off an immature leek with a Swiss Army knife.

The plots, rented out by Arlington's Park Division, contain a potpourri of vegetables and plants, and bright colors that contrast sharply with the pale green water tower that looms in the background, and the chain link fence on the perimeter.

These "garden plotters," as Gary Riviere, a Virginia Cooperative Extension agent, calls them, are intent on eating the fresh stuff that they nurture with their own hands, not the "tired-looking" store-bought vegetables.

In 1977, when news accounts chronicled the problems of DDT and other pesticides, when health stores were well into their heyday, both Fairfax and Arlington counties made available do-it-yourself plots for $15 a summer. Water cost extra.

Fairfax started out with a handful. But now the county rents 640 plots, and most of them are taken.

To complement the gardeners' seasonal hobby, Riviere hosts periodic seminars and publishes a newsletter that explains soil testing procedures, fertilizer application, companion planting (growing vegetables side by side to complement their growth), and a regular "Pest Watch" column that lists the seasonal insects and information on how to ward them off.

"Most people around here aren't into fertilizers," he said. "That's the reason they grow in the first place."

For some, though, untamed growth is the problem.

"Take my tomatoes, please," pleads Pat Vogel of Arlington, the proprietor of a single tomato plant that at eight feet tall and the source of 31 tomatoes, is a miniature factory gradually consuming her backyard garden.

Vogel, who is remembered by her neighbors as the owner of a ragweed last summer that towered 13 feet high, said, "I didn't do anything to it. I don't believe it myself. It's rather strange. They're the tomatoes hanging there like animals."

But despite the behemoth plant, summer wouldn't be summer for Vogel without her Better Boy, Better Girl and Brisbaine tomatoes. As far as tiny tomatoes are concerned, Vogel said she thinks they're just a pretty face.

"I hate them. They're not meaty. They're all seed."

Not so, Humphrey said to a visitor. "Here, try this one. That's a Gold Nugget. Just about the sweetest tomato I've ever tasted."

Humphrey, a 56-year-old native South Dakotan, said gardening is "in my blood," as he wiped the sweat from his brow. "I love getting up, coming over here in the morning and digging in my heels."

Of course there are dividends.

"I like to eat," he said. "I'll eat three or four honeydew melons from my garden in the morning, and stir fry a bunch of vegetables for dinner." Not to mention three or four ears of corn.

"There's nothing like picking a perfect ear in the afternoon, and eating it the same day," said Humphrey. The prime harvest time for corn, he said, is when the corn turns to sugar, but before it turns to starch.

For the 67-year-old John a bowl of leek soup with a slab of french bread, and a couple of slices of cucumber makes for a satisfying meal.

Humphrey said the desire to stay fit while seeing the maturation of one's work is as important as eating fresh food.

The retired park planner for the National Park Service said, "It's great to see, smell, and taste your work, to know that what you get out is usually a direct result of what you put into it."

Unless, of course, a raccoon beats you to the corn, or the birds feast on the sunflower seeds or dogs dig up the rutabagas.

Humphrey said that during the off-season, which only lasts from November to February, he plans next year's garden, and thinks of new and exotic vegetables to grow that will yield tantalizing smells in his kitchen and invite his taste buds.

Humphrey said the best garden is always next year's, when the weeds won't strangle the produce, when the perfect amount of rain will fall and when the birds will all fly to Canada.

"That's why the gardens of your mind are the best in the world," he said.