Most ecological and epidemiological models describe systems with continuous uninterrupted interactions between populations. Many systems, though, have ecological disturbances, such as those associated with planting and harvesting of a seasonal crop. In this paper, we introduce host—parasite—hyperparasite systems as models of biological control in a disturbed environment, where the host—parasite interactions are discontinuous. One model is a parasite—hyperparasite system designed to capture the essence of biological control and the other is a host—parasite—hyperparasite system that incorporates many more features of the population dynamics. Two types of discontinuity are included in the models. One corresponds to a pulse of new parasites at harvest and the other reflects the discontinuous presence of the host due to planting and harvesting. Such discontinuities are characteristic of many ecosystems involving parasitism or other interactions with an annual host. The models are tested against data from an experiment investigating the persistent biological control of the fungal plant parasite of lettuce Sclerotinia minor by the fungal hyperparasite Sporidesmium sclerotivorum, over successive crops. Using a combination of mathematical analysis, model fitting and parameter estimation, the factors that contribute the observed persistence of the parasite are examined. Analytical results show that repeated planting and harvesting of the host allows the parasite to persist by maintaining a quantity of host tissue in the system on which the parasite can reproduce. When the host dynamics are not included explicitly in the model, we demonstrate that homogeneous mixing fails to predict the persistence of the parasite population, while incorporating spatial heterogeneity by allowing for heterogeneous mixing prevents fade–out. Including the host's dynamics lessens the effect of heterogeneous mixing on persistence, though the predicted values for the parasite population are closer to the observed values. An alternative hypothesis for persistence involving a stepped change in rates of infection is also tested and model fitting is used to show that changes in some environmental conditions may contribute to parasite persistence. The importance of disturbances and periodic forcing in models for interacting populations is discussed.