I have ordered from them and the queens were mediocre, at best. If you've ordered queens from W.T. Kelley, they were likely from Hardeman's. Keep in mind that all breeders can have bad queens at times, so this is not to say that you wouldn't get some good ones.
I got 2 queens from Hardemans. One was pretty poor ended up requeening her with a local queen. And one was an AMAZING...built up fast...and threw a 5-6lb swarm and still had 3-4lbs of bees left in the hive. Then I added a local queen to that hive too. So both of my hives their first year have gone through a lot and I will be anxious to see if they made it through the winter...being that they ate all honey stores in about july/august so I fed heavy up till oct/nov.
Yes you do get bad queen from all queen breeder. I've bought from many queen breeder and have found that Wilbanks are the best on the East Coast so far. Out of 900+ queens last year only had 8-12 bad layers. There price might be a little bit higher, but you get what you pay for.
Hardeman produced OK queens years ago.
The one breeder I would stay clear of is Weaver's out of Texas.
Weavers were one of the main queen producers we've rotated through over the past 15 years. Their bees always did great and were talked up by one of the bee inspectors (after his retirement) as consistently being the strongest strain overall. We stopped ordering a few years ago due to africanization of the region although I can't say we ever got a bad group of queens from them. (we ordered 100 & 200 at a time).
I would be interested to here your experiance for not liking their stock. I know now they are selling a "generic" starline/ buckfast mix as well as Aussies? What's up at Weavers?
Bought a ton of packages from Hardemans back in 1993- 1994, when we bought packages. Not great stock but great people to deal with. We moved on to NWC's, Buckfast and mixed in a little MH and cordovan for some of their good traits.
Hardemans Russian line are some good bee's, I never had any of their other lines, I know they get Russian Breeder queens every year from a member of the Russian breeder association, I have had very good luck with their russian line.
I have ordered packages through a local dealer that gets them from hardeman's. Last year I bought 3 packages with a Russian/Italian hybrid - they did OK this year - not as good as a few years ago. I do have to say that this season was particularly dry, so that may have something to do with it. However, the NWC's I got from Tim at Honey Run Apiaries did quite well.
Unless you are a large, commercial producer - I would look for queens at Mid-sized breeders. VP Queens, Mike Palmer, Tim at Honey Run etc. I've heard a lot of good things about their stock.
I bought 10 packages from them 2 years ago. A friend of mine bought 100. About 10% ended up with either laying workers or drone layers. It was very early in the season -- probably too early. Later in the year might have had different results.
I have had several years experience of getting packages and queens from Walter Kelley Co... (Hardeman Apiaries). Overall, my experience has been good. I would not hesitate to use them again. Just my humble opinion. Best wishes.
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