The 'This is All Steve's Fault' 3 Gal Betta Tank
This was all a mistake from the beginning, but a mistake I couldn't resist.
It started with someone else (let's call him Steve) buying a betta fish. And plunking it down to slowly die in a tiny, horrible little cube tank. Steve is my coworker at a small vet practice, and he brought his betta in to work, so I had to watch it suffer. He put the tiny little cube in our lobby, and was very proud of himself for livening up the place.
I once kept a bearded dragon in secret, in my closet, as a high schooler after it was abandoned by its previous owner. I couldn't let the little fish die in that cube. I used to keep ten-gallon tropical community tanks as a kid, so I thought, what the hell, I'll do an emergency intervention here and move that fish to a better home, right here in the vet clinic. Here's where the awkward office politics come in: I'm the 19 year old daughter of the clinic's owner. I do sensitive paperwork and know all the passwords. Other than that, I'm a lowly assistant in the clinic's hierarchy. So I have dubious leverage over Steve, who otherwise outranks me (and is much older).
Now, at this point you may be saying, "that sounds like a super awkward clusterf**k. You should just mind your business!"
You'd be right, of course, but I couldn't bear to leave that little betta to his fate. Working in the back rooms of a vet clinic, I see terrible things quite often. I've seen the suffering that is caused by neglect and bad husbandry. I've seen, felt and smelled misery at its purest. And I guess I wanted something I could protect, a chance to finally stop the suffering, even if it was only one tiny little fish.
I told Steve my great plan, spinning it as a gift for him and the vet clinic. "A bigger one will look so much cooler!" I told him, skipping the part about his tiny tank being terrible for his fish. Steve is a curmudgeon but likes indulging us young'uns, so he gave me the ok.
After some hasty aquaria re-learning, I went out and bought an API 3 gallon tank kit, because that was the largest size that could fit in in our lobby. It was at that point that I decided, screw it, might as well add some plants! They'll make it look better and help eat the nitrates and such. (This was not the most thoughtful, well-planned decision I've ever made.) So, I slapped together a quick list of some "low tech" plants (I had never heard the term before) and bought those too, from a rather useless chain pet store that kept trying to convince me to add cory catfish to my 3-gallon, uncycled tank. The blind leading the blind!
Some more hasty purchases followed: an aftermarket LED to keep my new plants from dying, resin driftwood to tie Java moss to, and some water conditioner.
I assembled my Betta paradise, and decided that the poor, stressed looking betta might not last as long as it would take to fishless-cycle my new tank. With that in mind, I decided I would cycle the tank with the betta in it.
And so began my struggle.